Opinion: Is Time Up for TikTok?

by Robin Beaudoin Ownby

They say that Facebook makes you hate the people you love and TikTok makes you love people you will never meet. Nothing could be truer. In the tidal wave of negativity that is American politics and the Coronavirus pandemic, millions have flocked away from the “too real,” escaping to something more entertaining and anonymous, in ByteDance’s Chinese video-sharing app, TikTok. The app, formerly the youth favorite, Music.ly, has evolved from karaoke and lip-sync to an endless platform for entertainment, information, and inspiration. I downloaded TikTok to monitor my tween daughter’s internet behaviors but have come to enjoy it immensely as a parent and adult.

Because of TikTok’s one minute or less video platform, my own inattentive adult self has learned how to care for houseplants, how to bake bread, how to choose proper skincare, and how to plop my wavy hair and wear it natural. I have made homemade lava lamps with oil, water, Alka- Seltzer, and food coloring, I have made cooking videos, I have participated in political activism, and I have met other mothers struggling in the same ways that I did when my kids were younger. Thanks to “dermatology TikTok”, I have changed my skincare routine to include products from The Ordinary and tossed my St. Ive’s scrubs. I cannot forget to mention the body positivity and LGBTQ+ and allies. I am wearing shorts for the first time in a decade thanks to these amazing body positive role models, but no, I can’t do the WAP dance. The “TikTok Famous” became my new favorite celebrities, in the absence of new television over the summer.

Most surprising to me is the myriad of helpful therapists volunteering their knowledge in the form of short lists and suggestions on recognizing trauma, how to best talk to your children, and leaving toxic relationships. Depression seems to be contagious in the U.S., with a sense of normality evaporated like the Lysol to which we cleave. Coronavirus has many of us missing our social interaction and physical touch, which give us serotonin, boosting our mood. Children are schooling in masks on campus, or at home, isolated from their friends. The current political divide feels greater than a typical election year, tearing apart lifelong friends and dividing families. These counselors’ and therapists’ posts are a treasure, if not a jumping-off point at exploring and treating one’s mental health.

The political circus surrounding TikTok nods at security issues with China. This user has serious doubts about that. Back in June, teen users along with fans of Korean band BTS ordered loads of free tickets to a Trump rally in Oklahoma, rendering the seats half empty on rally day, effectively sinking the rally. The president’s ego was bruised. Citing security issues, he threatened to remove it from play stores and iTunes, and even to “ban” the use of the app If a deal that satisfies him is not made. In response in August, TikTok has sued Donald Trump and his administration, arguing that taking aim at the app is unconstitutional, citing that Trump’s executive order bypassed due process by not allowing the company to be heard. In September, a judge ruled on an injunction request that Trump could not remove the app from stores, at least until a deal was made or denied.

President Trump gave his blessing to a deal including Walmart and Oracle (a cloud and platform server provider), giving them a 20% stake in TikTok Global, keeping the headquarters and operations in the United States. “Four of the five board members” will be Americans, Oracle and Walmart state. The board will include the CEO of ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, and the CEO of Walmart. The completion of this deal is on the horizon, but both Trump and ByteDance China need to agree with the plan.

I am hopeful, absorbing both the news and seeing the involvement in the TikTok community to keep the app safe and thriving. It will likely continue to be an escape for me, even when there is a “new normal,” and politics have simmered down.