The Orange, the App & the Facebook
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
The rise of TikTok from an unknown to a staple of social media interaction is something that we have become familiar with in the internet age.
Like Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat before them, huge registration numbers and countless downloads have been followed by questions of monetisation. With 'youths', marketing managers and people who apparently think it's acceptable to use a microwave when making a cup of tea (!) login everyday to do the latest dance, promote brands in innovative ways and piss me off.
For the record, I don't have a TikTok account. I enjoyed its predecessor 'Vine' when it had a similar rise around 2012 but its premise is a great one and I have enjoyed many a video of friends wearing their girlfriends clothes.
After typing that I feel obligated to point out that that was one of the dances on TikTok. Do a video with your other half, 'Flip the switch', screen goes black for a second and then you're wearing each other's clothes. So no, I'm not into cross dressing, not that there's anything wrong with- you get the point.
Now I've dealt with the cross dressing question. I can get back to my original point which is that TikTok is a great example of the success that can be had in the open economy that app stores are. In fact I'd argue that such a story of a brand rising to the top due to their superior product is something that the west champions in it's current societal structure and optimises the American dream.
The problem is they are Chinese.
In a move consistent with his xenophobia, the President of the US has set sights on TikTok, first threatening a nationwide ban, then insisting that the government takes a cut of any acquisition of the brand when Microsoft hinted at interest in the platform, and finally giving a deadline for any acquisition to go through.
While government involvement in private businesses rarely goes down well and no one should describe Trump's actions this week as anything other than racist, the TikTok debacle exemplifies the Don's catastrophic handling of any issue that involves China.
To my eye there are two main problems with the President's actions. Firstly is the fact that there is no legal basis for Microsoft or any other company to allocate a portion of the acquisition fee to give to the US government and what's more, there is no plan or idea how they could in act such a policy; if you can call it that.
The second grievance I have is that ByteDance, the owners of TikTok would have to fundamentally change the structure of their company in order to make a sale they don't want to make in a time frame that will surely cause problems when a request is made, asking where American user's data is stored.
As with Huawei, we have got to a stage where the US is condemning companies without giving proper evidence for doing so. It’s such an easy win for the American government to say that they’re Chinese so they are bad and something that needs to be fought.
So where does Facebook come into it? Well they are the ever closer observer of the internet age and in that position you'd imagine that they would spot some new trends to capitalise on; or just copy them.
While TikTok is embroiled in an argument with the leader of the free world, Facebook launched 'Reels' for Instagram, a feature that gives users the ability to create their own content by pausing, recording and stitching together clips, playing popular music over the top and lay goofy effects over their creations.
What's wrong with that? Quite a lot actually.
Instagram Reels is a blatant copy of TikTok in a time where attention of the app creator is dedicated to the president.
But while the original struggles with the most powerful man in the world, the competition gains pace and uses the same battle hardened tactics that saw it quieten competitors such as Snapchat. We have just seen Facebook amongst other tech CEOs give evidence about anti-competitive behaviour to congress in which senators quoted Zuckerberg joking 'the beauty of start ups is that we can just buy them'.
But TikTok is no longer a start up, and any move to buy from Facebook in the same way Microsoft might will be viewed as non-competitive.
Where I struggle with TikTok is the fact that through the President getting involved with this company and floating the very real idea that he could ban the app, Facebook have been given an opportunity, not unlike that when Snapchat gained popularity, to bring a competing platform that is a lot safer than it's Chinese equivalent.