TikTok ban – planning an economic disaster

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -


IT'S TICK-TOCK for TikTok. Time could be running out for the immensely popular social media platform in the US.

What? Who doesn't love an insufferable pun?

In a rare show of bipartisan co-operation, the US government appears bent on a sweeping ban of the app.

The blistering momentum gathered behind this nuclear option seems to completely sidestep the fact that a ban on TikTok will potentially devastate countless small and medium-sized businesses in the US. The app has become an important incubator for entrepreneurs. It's the sixth most used social media platform worldwide and has an estimated one billion users per month – a figure that's only growing. Consumer spending on the app doubled in the space of one year to $2.3 billion in 2021.

Anyone who still believes the video-centric app is for dancing teens and cake recipes exclusively either never used TikTok or doesn't understand it – or both.

TikTok, not unlike other social media platforms, created opportunities for people whose lives were reduced to fallout during pandemic lockdowns. What set this platform apart from the others, though, is that it allowed users faster growth and broader reach with their content. While that speed and reach may have since diminished somewhat, it's still better than what obtains on other socials, some of which have gone the pay-to-play route.

TikTok has also become a great leveller. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker – the video-driven site has given a platform to people with talents of almost every conceivable variety to earn a reasonably consistent income.

In particular, creative types like filmmakers, artists, musicians and authors have built viable careers on TikTok using their gifts. Such artistically inclined folks would otherwise have been relegated to either poorly paid work by industry gatekeepers or offered the ignominious "exposure" in exchange for their efforts.

As a former nature and television documentary producer, I wonder what my horizons would have looked like if TikTok was around 12 years ago.

When I decided to follow my dream of producing television shows back in the day, getting them financed was like pulling out my liver. I had to go cap in hand to corporate sponsors who knew nothing about television. Moreover, they weren't particularly interested in it and perceived the shows as "spots" – mere vehicles through which they could shift their products or services.

These gatekeeping succubi stood between myself and the audience, among whom demand for the programming was always buoyant.

TikTok, in no small measure, has flipped that dynamic on its head for creatives today. They put their content online, amass huge audiences, and can monetise their talents and abilities in different ways. They can market directly to clients, teach others how to do what they do through online courses and eBooks, attract paid speaking gigs and do merchandising.

Moreover, corporate players who once called the shots must now go to these creatives to bargain for a piece of their online audiences.

So TikTok, in a way, has delivered a measure of cosmic justice for creative entrepreneurs who would otherwise languish at the lower end of the food chain.

Some argue that if TikTok were to disappear tomorrow there's always "the YouTubes" or Instagram.

Well, migrating a following from one platform to another isn't a straightforward affair. Growth elsewhere can be glacial, so monetisation can be a real slog. Moreover, other platforms, while useful, don't have the same community vibe unique to TikTok.

Mind you, the platform isn't all rainbows and unicorns. Compelling studies point to the troubling corrosion of self-esteem and mental health among vulnerable teens using the app.

There are also fears of its being used as a Trojan horse for a culture of misinformation and audience manipulation. Frankly, the same has been proven true of other social media platforms. Misuse of social media is a societal failing, not a technological one.

At any rate, the principal narrative driving the case for a ban is concern that the Chinese-owned app is mining data from US users, constituting a national-security breach. That argument is disingenuous, as the Chinese don't need their own app for data harvesting. Such data is widely sold on the open market and has been for some time now.

What's clear is that behind the scenes political interests are speaking far more loudly than the potentially disastrous economic consequences of a TikTok ban. US lawmakers seem blind to the reality that this is one candle that will cost more than the funeral.


"TikTok ban – planning an economic disaster"

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