Platform Update: April 2024

It’s been a stressful month for TikTok, with the US Senate agreeing on a landmark bill that would force the social media giant to sell or be banned in a year.

With an estimated 170 million U.S. users, there’s no doubting TikTok’s popularity in America. But a recent bill now poses the biggest existential threat the social media giant has seen since Donald Trump tried to ban the app back in 2020.

Why all the heat for TikTok? ByteDance, the Chinese-owned company behind the social media giant, isn’t trusted by the U.S. government. There’s a fear that ByteDance could harvest sensitive user data and censor content in alignment with the interests of the Chinese government. 

The new bill, which has now passed through the Senate, says that ByteDance must sell TikTok to a U.S. company within nine months – with a possible three months on top of that to finalise a deal – or see the app banned.

Some technology experts see the proposed ban as an attack on free speech. It’s also not clear how it will be regulated, since the ban will only stop the app stores from hosting the app, leaving those with it already downloaded in a grey zone. There’s also the suggestion that foreign intelligence agencies already have myriad ways to monitor people, so why single out TikTok?

This development is a pivotal moment in the ongoing debate over national security, free speech, and the role of technology in society. Whether TikTok can navigate this challenge will show the extent to which global tech companies can weather geopolitical pressures.

Stayed tuned for more big platform updates in May.