March 18, 2023
TikTok’s skyrocketing rise from niche video-sharing app to global social media giant has generated much scrutiny, particularly for its ties to China.
Several governments have banned their teams’ app for fear the data could be seen by officials in Beijing, and the US is now trying to force Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell its prized asset.
The global action against TikTok started in earnest in India in 2020.
It was among the Chinese apps banned after deadly clashes on the India-China border, and New Delhi said it was defending its sovereignty.
The same year, US President Donald Trump threatened a ban and accused TikTok of spying for China, an idea that has gained traction in Washington.
TikTok has admitted that ByteDance employees in China accessed US account details, but has always denied providing any data to Chinese authorities.
The company tried to assuage fears about data in the United States and the European Union, promising to eventually store local user data on local servers.
But the US federal government and the European Commission have banned the app from their employees’ devices.
And the US is pushing even harder, threatening to ban the app entirely unless TikTok is spun off from ByteDance, echoing Trump’s threat.
The bans have not stopped the growth of TikTok.
With more than one billion active users, it is the sixth most used social platform in the world, according to the marketing agency We Are Social.
Although it lags behind Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, the trio that has long dominated Meta, its growth among young people far outpaces its competitors.
Nearly a third of TikTok users are between the ages of 10 and 19, according to the Wallaroo agency.
His rapid rise saw him rake in more than $11 billion in ad revenue last year, a three-fold increase in a single year.
TikTok’s competitors quickly copied its short video format and continuous scrolling, but with little success.
TikTok’s powerful algorithm and editing features have kept it ahead of the game, attracting an army of creators and influencers.
But the algorithm is opaque and is often accused of driving users into silos of digital content.
TikTok and ByteDance employees also manually increase the number of views on certain content, and executives have admitted they pushed content related to last year’s World Cup and Taylor Swift’s debut on the platform.
TikTok has said that manual promotion only affects a small fraction of recommended videos.
The app is regularly accused of spreading misinformation, putting users in danger with dangerous “challenge” videos, and allowing pornography, even though it is supposed to prohibit nudity.
French news site Numerama recently reported on a TikTok “trend” involving the posting of pictures of penises.
Several children have also reportedly died while trying to replicate the so-called blackout challenge, which involves users holding their breath until they pass out.
And around a fifth of videos on current affairs such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine turned out to be false or misleading, according to a study by disinformation group NewsGuard.
TikTok pays AFP, along with more than a dozen fact-checking organizations, to verify videos that potentially contain false information. The videos are removed by TikTok if the AFP teams prove that the information is false.
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