more than a billion users and controversies that accumulate
A pinnacle of mobile entertainment, a spy tool serving Beijing, or both? The TikTok phenomenon has made the world of social networks obsolete, but the application is already in the crosshairs of several states that want to limit its influence.
Its chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, promised at a US congressional hearing on Thursday that, by the end of the year, all information related to the country’s 150 million users will be handled solely from servers located in the United States.
But he acknowledged that the platform, a subsidiary of the Chinese group ByteDance, still has old data from US users stored on servers accessible to Chinese employees, as US lawmakers accuse it of endangering national security.
– Under pressure –
TikTok was first banned in India in 2020, after deadly clashes on the border with China.
The same year, the app was also threatened with a ban in the United States by President Donald Trump, who accused it of espionage.
The social network had then admitted, following an article on the BuzzFeed site, that employees based in China had had access to data relating to US users but had defended having passed it on to the Chinese Communist Party.
In an attempt to ensure the security of the data, the company promised American and European users to store it on its territory, with local partners.
In 2023, the US federal government and the European Commission banned the download and use of TikTok on their employees’ work devices. Now, Washington is pushing for a broader ban.
The British parliament announced a ban on TikTok across all its devices and networks on Thursday, following a similar move taken a week earlier by the UK government.
– Billion users –
None of these measures has so far slowed down the meteoric rise of TikTok.
The platform has more than 1 billion active users around the world, including 125 million in the European Union.
It ranks sixth among the most popular social platforms, according to the latest report by the We Are Social agency on the evolution of the digital world, published in January.
TikTok also registers the strongest growth, especially among the youngest.
Above all, TikTok surpasses all its competitors in its ability to grab attention. In 2023, Android users used it an average of 23 hours and 28 minutes each month.
YouTube or Meta (parent company of Facebook, Instagram) have tried to imitate their ultra-short video format, without much success so far.
– An opaque algorithm –
TikTok has managed to attract a lot of influencers, thanks in particular to its advanced video editing features, creative filters, and a powerful algorithm, capable of quickly raising new stars.
These tiktokers, like Khaby Lame, Charli d’Amelio and Bella Poarch, some of the best known, have attracted many brands.
But TikTok’s algorithm is still opaque.
In January, Forbes magazine revealed that employees at TikTok and Bytedance regularly used a button to increase the number of views of certain content.
According to TikTok, which recently announced the launch of a feature to find out why one video stands out over another, manual promotion affects only a small fraction of recommendations.
– Disinformation –
Like other social networks, TikTok faces the challenge of content moderation.
She is regularly accused of hosting numerous disinformation videos, dangerous dares, and images with sexual connotations, when she is supposed to ban nudity.
In October 2022, as the news website Numerama detected, a “trend” was to post pictures of penises.
On the other hand, the media reported that several children died after trying to replicate the “Blackout Challenge”, a viral challenge that involves seeing how long the participant can last without breathing.
In addition, as reported by NewsGuard in September 2022, 20% of the videos circulating on TikTok on current events (the Russian invasion of Ukraine, school shootings in the United States, covid-19 vaccines) were false or misleading.
The AFP, like more than a dozen fact-checking organizations, receives payments from TikTok in several countries in Asia and Oceania, Europe, the Middle East, and Spanish-speaking Latin America to verify videos that potentially contain false information.
Tiktok removes them if the AFP teams prove that the information transmitted is false.