Why TikTok is never leaving the US, and how the Chinese app changed the world forever

In 2020, president Trump issued an executive order aiming to ban TikTok in the US due to concerns that the Chinese-owned app posed “a threat to national security” (related to TikTok’s access to user data). The executive order didn’t go through, and TikTok continued to operate in the US. Until now…

The impending TikTok ban has been signed, sealed, and delivered by president Biden, and ByteDance (the company that owns TikTok) has now been given 9 months to sell the most popular app in the world if it wants to keep it operating in the US.

Unsurprisingly (at least to me), TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew responded, saying TikTok is not for sale, and vouched to fight against the bill that aims to remove TikTok from iPhone and Android phones in the United States.

Politics aside, the thing is that… I don’t think the essence of TikTok will ever leave the US. Or at least not in the near future, and certainly not in the next 9 months.

That being said, if/when “TikTok-ing” eventually becomes uncool (like Facebook did)… What will be the next big thing for social media?

How TikTok changed social media and the world forever: Creating opportunities, eliminating gatekeepers, and making people even more addicted to their phones

TikTok isn’t good for you but the algorithm can be good to you

Although short-form videos aren’t a new phenomenon, TikTok revolutionized social media with two key moves:

  • A mysterious content discovery algorithm, which has proven to be one of TikTok’s biggest assets
  • A focus on enabling users to build and maintain creator-fan relationships

When it comes to TikTok’s infamous algorithm, although no one really knows exactly how it operates, everyone knows that it’s been responsible for the endless scrolling we do on the app. But there’s a good side to “the algorithm” – one fewer people take advantage of, and that’s the creator’s advantage.

By coincidence or not, the world of entertainment was already headed towards a future without TV, and TikTok happened to arrive at the right moment, enabling creators from various areas of entertainment to find a (sometimes) unpredictable but incredibly disruptive platform to share their thing with the world.

Most of the TikTok-made celebrities might be dancers, but one that stands out to me is comedian Matt Rife who rode the TikTok wave like no other after a viral short clip changed his life overnight.

Examples like Matt Rife are proof that TikTok isn’t just a fun app for dance and cooking videos but a cracked door without established “gatekeepers” in the world of entertainment (looking at you, Hollywood).

With TikTok, you don’t need a director, producer, and distributor… You are the director, producer, and distributor! That is if you’re consistent at posting, and if the infamous algorithm shows you some love…

Is TikTok addictive? The real question is “how” addictive it is…

However, like anything else, TikTok has its “dark side”, and without a shadow of a doubt, this would be the app’s addictive nature.

Sure, all social media apps are addictive but the same “mysterious algorithm” that can change a creator’s life overnight can also hook people on the other side of the TikTok like a real drug.

I don’t have TikTok (rest assured, I find other ways to waste time), but I can see TikTok’s addictive nature through someone like my teenage cousin who never seems to not be on TikTok. As he’s scrolling, I’d keep overhearing the most random things sounding off from his phone’s speakers.

And to prove my questionable professionalism, I can also tell you that, according to research, the average person in the US seems to spend nearly one hour on TikTok (as of 2024). That’s twice as long compared to 2019.

The US can ban TikTok but TikTok’s identity will live on through Instagram and YouTube

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See, TikTok exploded onto the social media scene in no time, soon becoming the most popular app in the world – post the Covid pandemic when people had a lot of free time on their hands to create and consume TikTok videos.

But some of you might remember that before TikTok there was Vine – a similar short-form video platform that attracted a young audience and mostly young creators. But Vine is… dead (and Elon Musk probably isn’t too thrilled about it).

Still, TikTok’s influence and operation model quickly extended beyond the app itself, as other social media platforms directly copied TikTok’s operation, business, and algorithm model for their own apps – Instagram (owned by Facebook) and YouTube (owned by Google).

Hence, rest assured that even if TikTok were to be forced out of the US (where 5% of its global user base comes from), the essence of TikTok isn’t leaving the United States just yet. It will continue to exist through the likes of Instagram Reels and TikTok Shorts.

Are “super apps” the next big thing after TikTok, and will Elon Musk resurrect the essence of Vine as part of “X”?

In the end, even if Instagram and YouTube are the obvious alternatives to TikTok (having copied TikTok’s whole thing), every social media app that’s shaken up the world eventually hits a peak point. And then comes something new.

If I had to hedge my bets, I’d say that the natural evolution for apps like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter is to become the so-called “super app”.

A “super app” is basically a single app that acts like a swiss army knife, allowing you to do just about everything and anything on it, meaning you never really need to leave the app to use a different one.

While Facebook might be the closest thing to a super app available in the US (thanks to its own Marketplace and even dating app capabilities), it pales in comparison to the Chinese WeChat.

Apart from acting like a social media app (similar to Twitter), WeChat lets Chinese users text, call, and even make mobile payments and purchases without leaving the app. And that’s just scratching the surface.

The problem with this app-roach (no need to clap) is that a single app that does everything you need to do on your phone sounds a bit… monopolistic. But not if you ask the same US congress members who say Apple should allow such apps on the App store. Who are also the same congress members who are about to ban TikTok.

Irony, irony, irony…

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