Since its U.S. launch in 2018, TikTok has dominated social media, attracting nearly 800 million monthly users, many of whom are teenagers and young adults looking to post funny and relatable content.
However, in recent months, the innocent and playful personality that TikTok so solidly held has been tarnished. Bytedance, the Chinese tech company that owns TikTok, has been known to censor content and invade user privacy. Well-known for launching multiple apps similar to TikTok that have had huge success, Bytedance has been closely linked to China’s Communist agenda. In previous years, the conglomerate has taken down apps and content per the Chinese government’s orders.
This suppression of free speech is not limited by China’s borders, and TikTok has been accused of censorship and data collection by American users. Fergus Ryan, an analyst at the Strategic Policy Institute, says “[There] is plenty of anecdotal evidence of, for example, LGBTQ content that is being censored on the platform. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of people who perhaps have body shapes that don’t conform to what TikTok considers beautiful who are being censored on the platform.”
Some users have suspected the popular app of engaging in shadow banning, or limiting the amount of people who are able to see a publicly posted video. TikTok has denied censorship claims.
However, evidence of data collection is prominent in the way that the video-sharing app is designed. TikTok uses artificial intelligence to track your behavior and organize your feed. But storing personal data can be dangerous, especially because the data is accessible in other countries. “For a lot of people, it’s not something that they should really be that worried about, but there is a huge chunk of people who it really does matter and that’s because of what jobs they do. If they work in the government, if they work for the military, if they work in sensitive parts of the economy” Ryan states.
What does this mean for your business? A social networking platform with as wide a reach as TikTok can be a huge benefit to small businesses looking to increase their audience engagement. If your company is not on TikTok, you are missing out on a great opportunity to build client relationships and amplify brand awareness. However, there are risks involved when you become an active user on TikTok, especially as a business with a reputation to uphold.
Protect your data from privacy concerns.
During a conference held in late February, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman accused TikTok of being spyware, saying, “I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic — that it’s always listening.” The intelligence gathering that Bytedance is able to do means that businesses on TikTok may inadvertently expose their target audience information which can be sold to third parties. Private company information may also be at risk for access from foreign governments and competitors who will use sensitive data against you.
Companies must maintain control over the information they supply when using the app. This means tracking employee use and limiting who logs in.
Guarantee that you are reaching your target audience.
Due to censorship concerns, it may be difficult to know who your content is reaching, if it is reaching anyone at all. Businesses must measure the spread of their videos and ensure that their audiences have access to their content. Censorship is difficult to track and easy to deny, so small businesses must take it upon themselves to guarantee that their videos are connecting with other TikTok users.
Small businesses are not immune to the censorship and data collection that is already abundant on TikTok. While the social media platform provides numerous benefits for engaging with clients, businesses must ensure that they are protecting their clients, their content and their company at all times.
Emma Ford is a marketing intern at Flackable, a national, full-service public relations agency headquartered in Philadelphia. To learn more about Flackable, please visit www.flackable.com.