It hasn’t been a good few weeks for TikTok, the Chinese-owned app that has been the world’s hottest social media platform for the past few years. It currently has over two billion users. Despite its mass appeal, the app is coming under increasing scrutiny from powerful governments–which could spell disaster for TikTok’s future.
First, last week, India banned TikTok, along with 58 other Chinese apps. That ban was a hammer blow to TikTok in particular as India is its largest market, according to the BBC. Then on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is also “looking at” banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps as well. A day later, President Trump confirmed as much, saying:
It’s something we’re looking at, yes. It’s a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.
So why has one of the biggest countries in the world banned TikTok, and why is the U.S. considering following suit? This is where geopolitics comes into play. Officially, India said it banned the app because of security concerns. Specifically, it said the app was a “threat to [India’s] sovereignty and integrity.” Mike Pompeo also alluded to security concerns being the impetus for banning TikTok. When asked if he would recommend downloading the app, Pompeo said, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Are those security concerns valid? No one knows for sure. But it’s possible the U.S. and Indian governments could have hard evidence to that effect–yet none has been made public. A TikTok spokesperson, on the other hand, has gone on the record saying, “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the U.S. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
So why does geopolitics come into play? It’s because India and the United States have incentives to stick it to China any way they can right now–including Chinese-owned businesses. A few weeks ago, before India banned TikTok, a major skirmish broke out on India’s northern frontier. The BBC says the skirmish was “gruesome, hand-to-hand combat” that left 20 Indian soldiers dead. That obviously did not sit well with India.
The United States, particularly the Trump administration, has also had a long-running beef with China around a number of issues, mainly regarding trade. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic broke, U.S. and Chinese relations have soured, with Trump often pinning the blame on China for the outbreak.
Matter of fact, China is increasingly a scapegoat for the beleaguered Trump, who is dealing with plummeting poll numbers as American cases of the virus continue to soar. And, as every political scientist will tell you, when a beleaguered incumbent is running for reelection, it helps to have a visible external enemy that incumbent is demonstrating they’re standing up to. The fact that TikTok users scuppered Trump’s big rally plans in Tulsa a few weeks ago surely isn’t helping the company avoid Trump’s wrath either.