A young girl creates a TikTok video.
Is the clock running down on TikTok? The platform is used by around 150 million Americans. This includes almost two-thirds of all American teenagers. However, U.S. Government officials believe TikTok is a national security risk. They also feel it is a threat to the mental health of teen users. TikTok’s CEO—Shou Zi Chew—was asked to appear before the U.S. Congress to answer questions about these concerns.
TikTok is video sharing app. Videos are usually only a few minutes long. TikTok’s parent company—ByteDance—is based in China. Any user can easily upload videos from their phone for other users to view. The app directs users to videos based on information collected about each user. Users can also follow their favorite content creators, so they get their latest videos.
The combination of short videos and simple interface has helped TikTok become very popular. There are about 94 million active TikTok users every month in the United States. Globally, there are about 1.8 billion active users every month. Most content creators are between 18 and 24 years old. The most popular creator has 141 million followers. This wild success has made TikTok one of the largest social media platforms.
Criticisms of social media companies often fall into one of two categories—security risks and harm to mental health. The current focus on TikTok’s security is because of China’s communist government. It has the power to force Chinese-owned companies—like ByteDance—to share information. As a result, governments around the world see TikTok as a possible tool for Chinese spying efforts.
Critics also argue that TikTok is targeting younger audiences. Issues such as anxiety and depression are often linked to extended use of social media. For example, if a user watches a video on a specific topic, TikTok will suggest videos on the same topic or a similar topic. If that content is harmful, young users can quickly become overwhelmed. In addition, critics have accused TikTok of being too slow to remove harmful content.
Utah’s state legislature recently passed a law to address problems with social media apps. The law requires a parent’s permission for anyone under 18. The law also bans any techniques that might cause young users to become addicted to an app. It remains to be seen how the state will enforce the law.
TikTok is very popular. However, this has not stopped some countries from taking action. Canada and Belgium have banned TikTok from all government devices. India went further. Its government banned the app nation-wide, citing security and mental health concerns.
The United States government is in the process of removing the app from all government devices. Officials are also considering a national ban. When he appeared before congress TikTok’s CEO—Shou Zi Chew—said his company was not turning over user data to the Chinese government. He also insisted that TikTok was taking steps to protect Americans’ information. Congressional members at the hearing were skeptical and more action seems likely.