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Comprehensive Analysis: Is TikTok getting banned?

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TikTok Ban - iMusician

TikTok is one of the most popular social media platforms, with more than 1.7 billion active users worldwide. However, over the years, it has acquired a reputation as a somewhat controversial app. It has reportedly close links to China, which has caused concerns over compromised security, impaired well-being, and the expansion of offensive content.

The global dispute with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, recently reached new heights when US President Joe Biden signed a bill that could ban TikTok across the entire US territory. This article takes a deep dive into the case of the TikTok ban, exploring its causes, potential consequences, and follow-up events.

The origin of the issue

The heart of the issue with TikTok ultimately lies in the fact that ByteDance is a Chinese company, with many expressing concerns over its tight connection with the Chinese government.

According to lawmakers and regulators in the West, China has passed laws that allow its government to secretly demand data and sensitive information from Chinese companies and citizens to reportedly help their intelligence-gathering operations. Such practices could, therefore, pose a substantial security risk to all its active users, most notably on national government levels.

Many are also worried that the Chinese government could take advantage of TikTok’s content recommendations to incite misinformation, particularly in crucial matters such as elections or conflicts. Allegedly, the misinformation spread across TikTok has previously influenced the US presidential elections and played a notable role in shaping people’s judgments on the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian and Israel-Hamas Wars.

The media has repeatedly reported on fake TikTok accounts, many fictitiously labeled as news outlets, targeting millions of people in Russia, Ukraine, and across other European countries with artificially amplified pro-Russian narratives on the War. According to critics, content created and spread through TikTok has also fueled the spread of antisemitism, hate speech, and harassment of Jewish users. Let’s also not forget about how the media has claimed that TikTok’s weight loss trend has allegedly caused shortages of Ozempic, a diabetes drug that should be limited to patients with type-2 diabetes.

With all of this said, it is essential to note that many experts claim there is no evidence that TikTok has ever done any more harm or damage in the field of user privacy and protection than companies like Google or Meta. TikTok, which was born from a popular Chinese karaoke platform Musical.ly, has long denied any such allegations against the company and has tried to distance itself from ByteDance. During one of the Congress hearings, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew also made it clear that he is not Chinese but Singaporean after being repeatedly asked the same question.

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Nevertheless, governments worldwide have been actively taking action against the short-video hosting service, imposing restrictions on the app or completely banning it.

Censorship of TikTok in the world

Around 34+ countries worldwide have imposed restrictions or censorship of TikTok in the past or are currently imposing them at some level. Bangladesh and Indonesia were the first countries to ban TikTok in 2018, in both cases, to combat harmful, dangerous, and inappropriate content — particularly pornographic content, blasphemy, and gambling accounts.

In many countries, TikTok is banned from work and governmental devices. This is the case in Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and many European countries, including France, Austria, Denmark, Belgium, and the UK. The app is also unavailable on all official devices issued by the European Parliament, the European Commission, the European Council, and NATO.

In some countries, including Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, access to TikTok has been completely disabled. This is mostly due to the violation of local laws on personal data, concerns about children’s development, or a country’s broader censorship regulations.

The complete ban of TikTok in India in 2020 cost ByteDance one of its biggest markets, with a total of 1.3 billion citizens. Altogether, India blocked 50-something Chinese-created apps to "protect the data and privacy of its citizens." Meanwhile, Taiwan, which has had a complex and dubious relationship with China ever since the end of WWII in 1945, recently declared the app a dangerous product that represents a national security threat to the country.

Restrictions of TikTok in the USA

The US fight against TikTok kicked off in 2020 during the Trump Administration, with the then-president calling the app a national security threat. ByteDance first agreed to divest TikTok in order to avoid a ban attempt and later proceeded to file a lawsuit against Trump, accusing him of aiming at a TikTok ban to boost his re-election support. Trump’s executive order to make ByteDance sell TikTok or face a ban was also found unconstitutional by federal courts. Paradoxically, Trump now opposes the ban to challenge Biden in the upcoming 2024 presidential elections.

While Trump didn’t succeed in banning TikTok, the Biden Administration took over shortly after Biden became President. It issued Executive Order 14034, "Protecting Americans' Sensitive Data from Foreign Adversaries," to track and observe foreign-owned applications that impose risk to local personal data and national security.

However, it is not only the national security concerns that drive the US government’s attempt to ban TikTok. The app has also been regarded as:

  • strongly addictive,

  • posing risks to children’s safety and well-being (concerns over children abusing or misusing the application),

  • negatively impacting users’ mental health (reportedly promoting tobacco use, eating disorders, and even suicide), and

  • gathering and selling information that it doesn’t need to make a profit.

The road to prohibiting TikTok on US territory turned out long and bumpy. The first real attempt to ban TikTok was made in December 2022, when an Act to prohibit all Chinese- and Russian-owned social platforms from operating was introduced. Following this, President Biden signed the No TikTok on Government Devices Act, banning TikTok on all devices owned and run by the Federal government, with particular exceptions.

Next came the crucial passing of the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act through the House of Representatives back in March 2024, which received overwhelming support by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. This Act would ban operations related to TikTok completely within the USA unless ByteDance makes a qualified divestment, meaning it would have to sell the company to an appropriate buyer (most likely determined by the president of the USA).

After some modifications, the Act passed the House again, this time passing the United States Senate, too. On April 24, 2024, President Biden officially signed the Act, meaning that if ByteDance does not decide to divest TikTok, the social network will be banned in the US starting on January 19, 2025, at the earliest.

How will the TikTok ban work?

Right now, ByteDance has around nine months to divest TikTok. Then, if the sale is in progress, the company will have three more months to complete it. This potentially makes it a year before the app gets banned. However, it is predicted that ByteDance will do anything possible before giving up on the US market, which will likely lead to several court cases. In the end, it may take years before the ban goes into effect.

If the ban eventually occurs, app stores like those operated by Google or Apple will have to disable access to downloading the TikTok app. Distributing or updating TikTok may result in civil penalties imposed on them by the federal government. The same regulations will apply to internet hosting companies that will be prohibited from helping to distribute or maintain the app.

This ban doesn’t mean that the app will suddenly disappear from your phone or that you will go to jail if you continue using it after it is banned. Additionally, the app will most likely not stop working right away. However, TikTok will not be able to send updates, secure the app, or fix any bugs that appear, which will make it unusable in time.

What are the implications of the ban?

Reportedly, the overall goal of passing the bill is not really banning the app and thus punishing TikTok or ByteDance. Instead, it aims to end the Chinese ownership of the app. If ByteDance ends up selling TikTok to a potential US-American buyer, it is likely that not much will change for the app users. However, if the ban does get through, there are already two ‘parties’ that will certainly be affected by it.

First, it is likely that other social media apps, namely Meta-owned Instagram, will profit greatly from the ban. Instagram has been most successful at copying TikTok’s short-video format with its Reels and is, therefore, likely to pick up most of TikTok’s current audience. On the other hand, however, the ban may also mean a potential threat to Meta as it may inspire the European Union to try to introduce similar restrictions to its platforms.

While Instagram will profit, the ban will cause countless small businesses and creators to lose viewers and customers, suffer from reduced reach, and, most importantly, incur financial losses. In many cases, the TikTok ban may eventually lead to the bankruptcy of many businesses. This could have broader economic consequences, with up to billions of dollars being removed from the economy.

TikTok has been profitable for creators, influencers, and businesses in many ways — through views, gifts, sponsored videos, promoting products and services with TikTok ads, and selling products through the TikTok Shop.

According to the Washington Post, over 7 million US-American businesses market or sell their products through TikTok. It is predicted that these businesses will also opt for alternative platforms like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Snapchat to reallocate their marketing budget and find new ways to reach and engage audiences.

Yet, TikTok is unique from other platforms in its trends, virality, and strong algorithmic personalization (instead of focusing on cultivating and nourishing an audience of loyal followers). This means that even if creators and businesses amend their strategies to fit the functionality and formats of alternative platforms, they may never reach the same engagement and revenue as they do now on TikTok.

How will the ban impact the music industry?

Artists and musicians make up a significant part of the creators on TikTok. When it comes to signed musicians, many Universal Music Group artists were already, until recently, under a particular TikTok ban when their music was taken down from the service back in January this year. This step was due to a dispute between TikTok and UMG over the unfair remuneration of the label’s artists. However, at the beginning of May 2024, it was announced that both parties had reconciled and reached a new agreement.

Despite the eventual reconciliation, it is a general fact that TikTok pays too little remuneration to creatives. This definitely doesn’t make the service financially beneficial to musicians, particularly independent artists who are not represented by any major record label. TikTok’s ultimate value comes from driving music discovery. The platform serves as an essential marketing and creative tool, allowing artists to reach and engage with their fan bases and possibly go viral.

Therefore, the ban’s impact on independent artists could be detrimental, depriving them of a great promotional tool and a potential breakthrough opportunity in their careers. Some artists, however, have expressed a feeling of relief over the current situation. From their perspective, a TikTok ban could make art more authentic again, as they would no longer have to get into highly performative states to promote their music and hunt for their viral moment.

Whether artists feel positive or negative about the potential ban, the reality is that they may need to learn to diversify their online presence and not depend on one single platform to drive their overall success. It’s important to know that social media algorithms and personalization are ever-changing, and a platform that once worked for you perfectly may no longer serve you the best as you can’t suddenly reach your followers well.

What will likely happen next?

In response to the signed bill, the TikTok CEO expressed his confidence that the company will contest the new law and win in the courts on the US Constitution’s First Amendment grounds—just like they already did during the Trump administration’s ban attempt in 2020. This statement has been echoed by some lawmakers and experts on the matter, who claim the law is unconstitutional as it suppresses the freedom of speech of US-American citizens.

TikTok has also encouraged app users to contact lawmakers in a pop-up message to oppose the ban. Reportedly, some Capitol Hill offices have been overwhelmed with calls. Now, the Chinese-owned company has to make the official step of taking Biden’s administration to court.

In the meantime, speculations of potential buyers have started swirling around, mentioning certain large American corporations, Steven Mnuchin’s investor group, or a coalition of private equity firms in the discussion. Either way, selling TikTok may not be particularly easy. First of all, any company willing to buy TikTok would have to receive the blessing of the Chinese government — and Chinese officials have previously vehemently opposed a forced sell.

Additionally, TikTok as a company may not be an attractive target. Allegedly, TikTok’s US business is valued at approximately $100 billion, which might be too high of a price for many local companies. Additionally, while TikTok’s finances have not been publicly disclosed, many sources claim the company is experiencing financial challenges.

In fact, the app itself is not yet profitable — although ByteDance recorded $28 billion in net profit in 2023, none of it actually came from TikTok. This would suggest that purchasing the company may not be commercially viable for the potential buyer.

Conclusion

While the US government’s feud with TikTok and ByteDance kicked off years ago, the real fight over the future of TikTok in the United States seems to have just begun. For now, the US government is determined to ban the app (should it not be divested) even if it may likely have crippling implications on the local economy, small businesses, and creators, including artists and musicians. In exchange, they believe such a step will help them secure data and protect their citizens' privacy. ByteDance, however, is not willing to surrender at any time soon and will likely take Biden’s administration to court.

And who will be the winner? We may have to wait years to get the answer. In the meantime, we may focus on the fact that the risks imposed by TikTok, particularly regarding digital security and the mental well-being of young people, are not unique to that particular social media app.

As Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts has said, "American companies are doing the same thing, too." So, if lawmakers are determined to fight against these risks, perhaps they should also tackle companies and platforms other than TikTok, such as Google, Musk’s X, and Meta’s Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp.

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