TikTok You Don't Stop. Or Do You?
Last minute invite to last How To Citizen taping TODAY!
I walked out on 2022 like..
Hello, and welcome to 2023. We made it!
I sent this out to my Puck list Sunday and got slammed by 2023 this week! Before that, I had a slow start to the year so far, and I’ve been relishing it. I blasted all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies on New Years Eve while lounging in a recliner and reading Ross Gay’s beautiful The Book of Delights which a friend gifted me.
As I get into the full swing of things, I’ve got one more interview to conduct for our upcoming fourth season of my How To Citizen podcast. You’re invited to join me virtually in conversation with Dr. Sam Rader about how our internal lives shape the way we show up in the world and how to citizen deeply from within. We’ll be talking TODAY Thursday, January 12 at 2:30 p.m. ET. The new season launches in mid-February.
Meanwhile, I’d like to congratulate Rep. Kevin McCarthy on his “victory” in becoming “Speaker” of the House. I’m using quotation marks because the giveaways McCarthy made to the MAGA wing—I call them “giveaways” because it’s not a negotiation if you just give the other side what they want—ensure that he will structurally be a far weaker speaker than Nancy Pelosi, vulnerable to a vote of no confidence at basically any moment. Two years after the Jan. 6 insurrection, let’s remember that people who voted to overthrow election results still have no sense of irony—and are now holding a killswitch strapped to the U.S. Treasury and our soon up-for-renewal government debt.
I also want to pause the congratulations I’ve seen offered to the NFL for its handling of Damar Hamlin’s Monday Night Football cardiac arrest. Something was bothering me about the self-congratulatory nature of the coverage, and Garrett Bush of the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show put words to my feelings in an epic six-minute rant calling out the lack of healthcare coverage, pensions, and salary guarantees for NFL players. It’s worth a complete look and listen. As everyone, I’m relieved and amazed by Hamlin’s recovery, but there’s underlying stuff worth examining in how the league operates.
In future newsletters, I’ll share some updates around my thinking on our climate response and the emerging Twitter alternatives. I’m also working on a deeper piece about freedom in the context of Black History Month.
But for today, it’s all about TikTok. Let’s go!
TikTok on the Clock
It’s practically a certainty that you are aware of TikTok, even if you don’t use it, or are unwilling to admit you do. Is there some turn of phrase, some behavioral phenomenon, new fashion or dance trend that you can’t identify? It probably came from TikTok. One in three Americans use the app. Globally it has more than 1 billion active monthly users who spend an average of 90 minutes or more, daily, on the service, nearly double the number who use Instagram and three times that of Twitter (remember Twitter?). For Gen Z, it’s replacing television. For businesses, it’s a new marketing channel. For parents, it represents a terrifying, misinformation-rich addiction for kids, but also a bonding opportunity. For creators, it’s the latest path to attention and monetization.
Of course, being owned by the China-based company, ByteDance, complicates things. The U.S. House of Representatives and 19 state governments have banned the app on government-issued devices. The federal government included a ban on its devices in the recently-passed omnibus spending bill. Several universities are booting the service from their networks or officially-issued devices. Congress is considering a national ban. And the federal interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is nearing the end of a years-long assessment of the app’s national security issues. The concerns range from its addictive nature (one lawmaker called it “digital fentanyl”) to fears of Chinese Communist Party manipulation of the U.S. public, to surveillance or worse of elected officials and journalists. It doesn’t help that after months of denials, TikTok admitted that employees at parent company ByteDance were in fact using app data to track U.S. journalists. Oops.
So, what happens if the unthinkable happens, and TikTok goes away in the U.S.?
I want to begin by emphasizing how unlikely this outcome is. Simply put, I don’t think Gen Z and Generation Alpha are going to let it happen. Have you met a teenager lately? They’re brilliant and terrifying. They are the most educated and online generations ever created. They don’t trust authority, and would sooner start a business or non-profit or online hustle than sign up for a lifetime of college debt and an unreliable corporate job. They’ll use that hustle to get what they want. And what many want is to be famous. According to a recent study, one in four Gen Z Americans wants to be a social media influencer. In addition, young folks rely on social media as a search engine, for news and health information, and to fill in the knowledge gaps created by increasing restrictions on education in the U.S. You can get the C.I.A., F.B.I., Senate, and White House on the same page to turn this app off, but I don’t think the kids are having it. They’ll secede. They’ll create the largest collective VPN usage outside of China. They’ll have their memes, dammit!
But if I’m wrong, and TikTok does disappear, it’s going to have massive ramifications for marketing, media, and in particular, creators.
(You can read the rest of this in Puck!)
Before I leave you, I will include the real crux of the piece:
It’s risky to build on someone else’s property. Ownership of our data, social graph, and financial relationships has great value. How many times do we have to lose our followers on a social network to realize they were never ours? Unless we have a way to reach them outside the walled garden, such as an email address, mobile number, or credit card number, then they belong to the garden, not to us. We’re just sharecroppers.