Implications of a federal TikTok ban
Security concerns prompt legislative action
Last Tuesday, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress that would ban applications owned by entities in China and Russia, including the increasingly popular video sharing social network, TikTok.
Despite the assurances of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, U.S. lawmakers fear that user data could be handed to the Chinese government. Security experts, including the sitting FBI director, have warned that the application could be used as a means of influence or espionage, prompting several states to ban TikTok from government devices. The Senate has also already passed legislation that would ban TikTok on all U.S. government devices, leaving it up to the House to consider.
The federal bill proposed last week would ban the social network in the U.S. entirely. While it’s unlikely to be discussed during the current legislative session, the bill could be resurfaced in early 2023.
But what could a ban mean for other social networks, consumers, and marketers? Let’s explore.
Implications for U.S.-based social networks
For Meta’s primary social networks, Facebook and Instagram, as well as Alphabet’s YouTube, a TikTok ban could be seen as good news. Meta’s Reels and YouTube’s Shorts were developed as TikTok-like features to compete with the platform. A domestic ban of TikTok would help these platforms gain back their lost user base.
While a rival leaving the U.S. marketplace would be cause for excitement, social media moguls should also feel some trepidation. A U.S. ban of TikTok could spur reprisal bans of U.S.-based social networks and internet services by lawmakers in other countries.
If not banned outright, the threat of similar action could put social media companies in a difficult position. For example, the European Union, which regularly levies fines against Meta and Alphabet for GDPR noncompliance, could threaten service disruption.
Security or censorship?
In the context of discussing social media’s role in preserving free speech, many could question whether prohibition of social networking services from a foreign company is an appropriate security measure or a form of censorship. It’s ironic that the U.S. government would move to ban a Chinese social media company, even with data security concerns, when many lawmakers have criticized China for similar methods of censorship.
Muting a cultural phenomenon
There’s no denying that TikTok has had a significant impact on U.S. culture in recent years. From dance trends and internet challenges to TikTokers making the jump from short-form video to television, something about the platform has engrossed many Americans. Popularity of the app has even contributed to what’s known as the “TikTokification” of content.
So, what would it mean if that portion of internet culture were taken away? Would those devoted to the latest trends simply move to another app? Would the TikTokification of content stall out? Most likely, another platform would step in to fill the void — several have already tried — but it’s difficult to predict who would come out on top.
What this could mean for marketers
Although there’s no way to know whether the bill proposed by lawmakers will make it through both chambers of Congress and be signed by the president, it’s valuable for marketers to consider how they might pivot their strategies if this were to happen.
A ban could force companies to forfeit their profiles, but the lessons learned from forays into TikTok could still be applied to marketing efforts on other social networks. With similar content formats and algorithmic engines being incorporated into Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, best practices would likely carry over onto these TikTok equivalents. And for those advertising on the platform, alternatives would need to be explored. Although they may be more elusive than other generations online, there are other options for reaching Gen Z.
Regardless of what happens next, marketers with sound social media channel and content strategies will still be able to reach and engage audiences online. An emphasis on meaningful and valuable content targeted to the right social media users will insulate marketing leaders from channel disruptions. And while TikTok’s future in the U.S. is uncertain, the strategies that have made brands and advertisers successful on TikTok can still be applied to other channels.