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TikTok on the Clock

So, what happens if the unthinkable happens, and TikTok goes away in the U.S.? Photo: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images
Baratunde Thurston
January 8, 2023

It’s practically a certainty that you are aware of TikTok, even if you don’t use it, or are unwilling to admit you do. Is there some turn of phrase, some behavioral phenomenon, new fashion or dance trend that you can’t identify? It probably came from TikTok. One in three Americans use the app. Globally it has more than 1 billion active monthly users who spend an average of 90 minutes or more, daily, on the service, nearly double the number who use Instagram and three times that of Twitter (remember Twitter?). For Gen Z, it’s replacing television. For businesses, it’s a new marketing channel. For parents, it represents a terrifying, misinformation-rich addiction for kids, but also a bonding opportunity. For creators, it’s the latest path to attention and monetization. 

Of course, being owned by the China-based company, ByteDance, complicates things. The U.S. House of Representatives and 19 state governments have banned the app on government-issued devices. The federal government included a ban on its devices in the recently-passed omnibus spending bill. Several universities are booting the service from their networks or officially-issued devices. Congress is considering a national ban. And the federal interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is nearing the end of a years-long assessment of the app’s national security issues. The concerns range from its addictive nature (one lawmaker called it “digital fentanyl”) to fears of Chinese Communist Party manipulation of the U.S. public, to surveillance or worse of elected officials and journalists. It doesn’t help that after months of denials, TikTok admitted that employees at parent company ByteDance were in fact using app data to track U.S. journalists. Oops.