The TikTok Ban: The Bad, The Copycats and The Future of the Youth’s Beloved App

Picture of By Quynh (Stephanie) Bui

By Quynh (Stephanie) Bui

TikTok, originally a Chinese creation, has astronomically grown and become Gen Z’s favorite social media video-editing app. With 100 million active users, this trendy application has proved its power in the American market. Thus, the news of President Donald Trump banning the app in the U.S. over security concerns has left many users devastated. Nonetheless, speculations around this sudden decision explode as the future of this tech giant in one of its biggest user bases is on the line.

TikTok VS Donald Trump: A Match Not Made in Heaven

To retaliate against China, President Donald Trump made an executive order to ban TikTok and any transactions to its parent company, ByteDance, next month in the U.S. territory. This decision came about due to the privacy allegations that the app could transfer collected user data to the Chinese Communist Party. Since then, the U.S. Army, the Navy, and the House of Representatives and the Senate have banned the download of TikTok on government-issued phones.

After Trump’s accusations, TikTok has responded with a pending lawsuit, stating his justification as “baseless.” The company reasoned that its U.S. users’ data is stored domestically with a back-up in Singapore while reiterating how the app is not subject to Chinese law. But after all, are these concerns purely political or is there, in fact, some truth in them?

According to Chris Morales, head of security analytics at the cybersecurity firm Vectra, the amount of data TikTok collects, including permissions to user location, audio and camera recordings, and contacts, is worrisome. This detailed data can reveal the users’ whereabouts and is used to track and identify individuals. It is not the first time TikTok’s technology has been involved in politics, as ByteDance worked with Xinjiang’s police forces to disseminate state propaganda. TikTok is also banned in India due to the Chinese-Indian border disputes.

Is This The End of TikTok?

Due to this storm of sweeping conclusions, TikTok might soon be wiped off app stores in America. However, the users have been hit the most by this blow, expressing their disappointment over the shocking announcement. For many famous TikTokers, the platform has become their primary source of income, making money through ad deals, merch, live streams, and digital gifts. The fashion and music industry are also affected, as many TikTok influencers are affiliated with big young adult brands.

“It would be a shame if [TikTok] was taken away.”

However, money is not TikTokers’ only concern. For some creators, TikTok has evolved into an online creative haven that “dictates cultural conversations.” Spencer X, a beatboxing TikToker with nearly 40 million followers, believed that “TikTok is much more than an app. It’s a culture, and you can’t delete culture.” Carrie Berk, a TikTok influencer with nearly 560,000 followers, stated that “it would be a shame if [TikTok] was taken away.” She offered her users ways to cope with the ban, such as using a VPN or even signing a petition. TikTok star Madi Monroe further claimed that TikTok “inspire[s] kids [her] age to be strong, stand up for themselves and use their voices for change,” allowing them to “share ideas and views on the world.”

Instagram Reels: Is the TikTok Copycat a Hit or Miss? 

While many popular TikTokers have slowly migrated to other platforms such as Instagram and YouTube, the competition to champion TikTok intensifies between tech giants. The LA-based app Triller’s monthly users skyrocketed from only 2 million in 2017 to 64 million this year. Nonetheless, Instagram Reels by the big guy Facebook aims to fill the space by focusing on the entertainment element and user experience.

So, what makes TikTok so great that every app out there desperately wants to replicate its success? TikTok allows users to film and share short clips with embedded music and provides a feed where people can scroll through endless videos from fellow TikTokers. However, it’s TikTok’s ability to turn goofy videos into viral, massive Internet challenges, memes, and influencers that genuinely set it apart from other social media platforms.

Therefore, it’s relatively easy to recognize how Reels and TikTok bear some uncanny resemblance, where TikTok humorously “called out” Instagram on Twitter. It is not the first time Facebook Inc. has been “inspired” by its competitors (for reference, see Instagram Stories and Snapchat). Reels pretty much functions like TikTok, where users can post the final product to Stories or Close Friends, message it, or publicly share it, where famous ones appear in the Top Reels section.

However, Instagram Reels somewhat differs from its predecessor, where it has limited the video length to 15 seconds, compared to TikTok’s cap of 60 seconds, and provides more diverse music options. Reels also offers “a more built-out augmented reality platform” by integrating into the overarching system of Instagram tools.

Nonetheless, critics have pointed out some glaring drawbacks of Reels, such as the absence of a “duet” function where users can remix videos with each other and the lack of filters and special effects. Moreover, TikTok’s “ridiculous” videos starkly contrast the “carefully manicured image of glamour and glory most Instagram users try to project.”

The Future of TikTok: Microsoft’s Potential Acquisition of TikTok. And Seriously, Why?

Since his initial statement, Trump has ruled that TikTok will be officially shut down on September 15 unless an American company purchases the app. In an expected turn of events, Grandpa Microsoft, who already got Trump’s approval for the acquisition, is planning to take over TikTok’s operations in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Despite its former CEO and founder Bill Gates calling the deal a “poisoned chalice,” it is relatively intriguing to dissect why this old-school tech giant is interested in a teen-based app.

Some have argued that the multi-billion company aims to integrate TikTok with its Xbox consoles to compete with streaming websites such as Twitch, where users can watch and stream video games. Furthermore, TikTok might be Microsoft’s gateway to the young generation, a consumer group they have not been able to target adequately. Regardless, Microsoft, an American corporation, can resolve the biggest tension point by ensuring that “all private data of TikTok’s American users are transferred to and remains in the United States.”

Nonetheless, another dominant player has also entered the race. Oracle, the Silicon Valley computer technology giant, is set to challenge Microsoft’s bid to acquire TikTok. Although the future of TikTok in the U.S. is still uncertain, this is undoubtedly not the end of the rising app.


Cover: Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

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