Should you be worried about TikTok’s future? In short, yes. Here’s why.

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Doubtless you’ve seen the news or posts in your feed on one or more social channels, so I won’t belabor the details. But essentially, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation last week devised to force the Chinese company Bytedance to either sell TikTok to a non-Chinese company or face having the app banned within the United States.

This isn’t the first time Bytedance has faced such threats from the US. There have been multiple attempts at both the state and federal level to curtail the app’s access to American data and interests, and all have failed at one level or another. Previous efforts to sell the platform to other companies who could both afford the price tag, and the scrutiny, also failed to materialize.

Here’s a segment from our weekly broadcast, The MarTech Show, where my co-host Robin Dimond shares her thoughts.

US Congress Moves To Ban TikTok, segment of The MarTech Show

So Is TikTok Really At Risk, Legally?

As I mentioned, previous attempts to shutter TikTok in the U.S. have not been successful.

Three separate federal district judges have blocked efforts to ban TikTok — two courts during the Trump administration, and one U.S. court more recently in Montana.

Judge Wendy Beetlestone found in 2020 that TikTok’s national security threat is “phrased in the hypothetical.”

In late 2023, judge Donald Molloy said that a crusade by officials in Montana to block TikTok within the state’s borders had a “pervasive undertone of anti-Chinese sentiment.”

Many constitutional scholars say banning TikTok requires clearing nearly insurmountable legal hurdles.

And US lawmakers so far have failed to present any actual evidence of Chinese Communist Party utilizing TikTok in the way they’re expressing concern over.

Despite that, I believe TikTok has a real problem and challenge to overcome.

What’s The Problem Then?

There are some very real and practical concerns about the potential impact such a popular social network can have on American interests when it’s owned by a foreign company whose government is seemingly at odds with the US. Not only is data privacy a concern, the fact is, many TikTok users today use the app as their primary source of news and information.

And for all our angst about the news outlets and bias that happens in the way news is presented by TV stations, newspapers, radio and other media – their issues pale in comparison to a media platform that has no central structure, ownership, oversight, or visibility.

Here I’m not talking about TikTok or Bytedance, but rather the users who are creating content on the platform itself. We know that TikTok users are increasingly utilizing the app for news and searching for information, but it’s not as though we can say that the results are “TikTok.” They’re not. Not in the same way, for instance, we can say that readers of the New York Times are consuming Times content. We know who owns the Times, we know their political slant, and we also know that while they’re journalists, they’re also part of a business that has certain responsibilities, expectations, and guardrails.

When we say that users get information from TikTok – TikTok is just the vehicle, the information itself is from the tens of thousands of users of the platform – so a more apt comparison is to search engines like Google that surface news and websites and results.

It’s a distribution and aggregation platform, not a social network, for the purposes of this debate.

That’s an important distinction because the core issue isn’t really about the information itself that’s on the platform, but rather how the platform tends to treat and potentially favor such information.

Imagine for a moment if you opened Google and did a search for “pizza near me” and instead of an unbiased map of all the restaurants and locations within a certain distance of your current location serving fresh, hot pie, you instead got results after result talking about why a particular pizza place was the best, and other results talking about how bad other places were. After reading a few of these reviews or posts – all seemingly created by normal consumers like yourself – you’d doubtless turn to that one pizza joint that everyone seems to favor.

You’d assume the point of view that the platform pushed on you.

This kind of bias is by no means unique to what TikTok is being accused of. Bias and slant is a common problem with platforms and algorithms as much as news media. It’s also exasperating because it’s insidious in it’s impact and maddening in it’s difficulty to track and prove.

Part of the challenge is that if a platform is in fact skewing the information that is being served to users, there’s no easy, accessible way to measure and report that without direct access to the platform’s servers, data center, and code. You’d need The Social Dilemma-level insiders leaking information about how the algorithms were built and utilized, complete with screenshots and analytics.

The other part of the challenge is that, quite frankly, social media users are constantly feeding their own biases – often without intending to – through the normal use of the platforms. The more you like and engage with posts from people that agree with what you already believe, the more similar kinds of posts you’ll see in the future, contributing more and more and to your own confirmation bias.

But here’s the thing.

Everything I’ve just shared with you is a potential threat. I already said lawmakers have failed to find or put forth any substantial evidence of wrongdoing on the part of TikTok or Bytedance. So is all of this furor just anti-Chinese sentiment, as judge Molloy suggested?

If that were true, why haven’t you heard anything about Telegram?

Telegram has nearly a billion users and was founded by a pair of Russian brothers, Nikolai and Pavel Durov, in 2013. Given the incredible tension between Russia and the US in recent years, one might have expected more attention being paid to that app’s potential impact on American interests, or access to US citizen’s data – yet there’s been no such outcry.

The key is to look at who has been the most vocal – and this is true about any potential issue you’re looking into. Because the unfortunate truth is that in order for someone to make a big deal about something, they have to be motivated to do so. And when it comes to politicians in Washington D.C., their motivations are clouded at best.

I know that may come off as sounding jaded – and perhaps I am, having studied American history and been active in politics & campaigning for years – but democracy is never as simple as listening to your constituents and voting however the majority seem to prefer. I wish it was that simple.

Politics would then be more science than art.

The reality is that politicians certainly do need to talk to and listen to their constituents, but they also need to find ways to work with other politicians, weight the pros and cons of any particular course of action, and look for opportunities to be on the “right” side of public opinion in the eyes of their electorate. It’s complicated and murky – to say nothing about the potential for bad actors throughout.

My point is that as businesses and marketers, we have to understand that TikTok’s ownership, access, and influence, aren’t merely national security issues or privacy concerns.

They’re political concerns.

Right now, politicians who are taking increasingly strong stances against TikTok and Bytedance are being seen by their voters as being strong and principled and patriotic.

Not all voters agree on the issue or how to solve it of course, and Republican voters tend to feel more strongly about curtailing TikTok than Democrat voters, which is why we saw the Republican-led House of Representatives able to pass legislation that appears to be in doubt within the Democrat-led Senate.

Disagreement in Washington; Uncertainty in Courts. Sounds… fine?

If a ban seems unlikely to get through Congress, and then face almost certain defeat in the courts, why am I concerned for TikTok’s future?

Because this is, as I said, a political issue, and that means politicians are going to want to be able to go to this well over and over and over.

It’s a presidential election year in the US, with Biden once again facing Trump. One of the biggest concerns and issues facing Pres. Biden is how he’s handled immigration and the crisis at the southern border due to the flood of immigrants that have come seeking entry into the country. Biden and congressional Democrats worked with Republican counterparts to draft legislation designed to address the immigration issue, only to see it blocked by the Republican majority in the House.


Because Republicans do not want a political issue like immigration solved prior to an election when they can use that issue to help defeat Biden.

Knowing that’s a very real consideration – that our elected lawmakers would rather let an issue continue so that they can campaign on it, then let the opposing party solve it – do you think Republicans really want to see TikTok banned?

Or do you think lawmakers whose constituents have ideology that favors nationalistic ideas want to use TikTok for a punching bag for as long as they possibly can?

I’m not worried that TikTok will be banned, but I’m very concerned about how the platform is being framed and used by politicians.


I’m worried that it’s being used to distract from more important issues that aren’t as electable.

I’m worried that there’s little regard for the long term ramifications of these threats.

And I’m worried that there might actually be wrongdoing on the part of some platforms, but that lawmakers will overlook it in their zeal for more press-worthy and consumer-digestible findings.

The only advice that I can part you with, as a marketer, is to echo what Robin shared above – to make sure that you’re invested in an omnichannel approach to your marketing and not relying or betting on a single platform. Build your marketing strategy accordingly.

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