Monday 26 October 2020

American TikTok users brace for life without the app

As American lawmakers raise national security concerns over how TikTok handles user data and say they are worried the app shares the information with the government of China, Ty Gibson, 20, of Greensboro, North Carolina, brushes off speculation on TikTok. He does not believe his favourite video sharing platform would be no more.

Last Thursday, many users spent anxious moments when a server glitch erased video views, which show how popular a video is. They were taken aback by reports saying US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had threatened to block Chinese mobile applications (apps) like TikTok, following the Indian example.

“I thought it was the end,” Gibson said in an interview. “I didn’t even have time to think things through.” He had recorded his own farewell video for his 4.6 million fans, appealing to them to follow him on YouTube and Facebook’s Instagram in the post-TikTok American society.

Gibson is not alone. The news unnerved a largely devoted user base, who went skeltering for backups of their content. E-sports star Tyler Blevins alias Ninja, who has 4 million followers on TikTok, told his 6 million followers on Twitter he had already deleted TikTok from his phone.

The American society is witnessing self-shot videos, showing the characters crying while dancing with hashtags like #TikTokBan. This hashtag has got 212 million views while #SaveTikTok has 315 million.

“If TikTok loses consumer trust, then they lose their relevance,” deputy director of the American Influencer Council Alexander Patino, a trade association for social media personalities who market products online, said.

The Trump administration’s decision is nearly impossible to fight back, says Justin Sherman, a nonresident fellow at think tank Atlantic Council. He focuses on geopolitics and cybersecurity. “I don’t think the company could do anything to placate them,” he said.

TikTok has said it has never given user data to the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked.

American sponsors circumspect

The effect of a ban on the advertising world would be minimal, though. TikTok’s ad business is still nascent. Brands would readily migrate to other platforms, an executive at a big ad agency said. However, corporate sponsorship of so-called influencers has already suffered.

A major consumer-goods brand put a five-figure deal with a TikTok influencer on ice for at least two months. Declining to name the brand, chief executive of influencer marketing agency Viral Nation Joe Gagliese says this happened because the brand did not want to be associated with negative news about the app.

James Lamprey, a chef with 1.2 million TikTok followers, said the uncertainty has caused a camera company to pause their deal with him until there was more clarity about the app’s fate. This was for a sponsored TikTok video worth $1,000 (roughly Rs. 75,400).

Lamprey said he had started trying to get his TikTok fans to follow him on Instagram. But if TikTok is banned, the impact to his earnings could be huge, he said. “For TikTok, these brands are contacting me left and right,” Lamprey said. “They want to get in front of that audience.”

Rivals closing in

Smaller rivals like Triller, Byte, and Dubsmash have watched downloads of their apps spike after Pompeo’s comments. Some are now proactively targeting TikTok users.

Known for its focus on hip-hop music, Triller is reaching out to top TikTok stars while it fields inbound interest from creators wanting to grow their Triller accounts, said Ryan Kavanaugh, founder of Proxima Media, which operates Triller.

Taylor Cassidy, a TikTok influencer with 1.7 million followers, said that some TikTok competitors she wouldn’t name nudged her to build her presence on those apps. They guarantee her an immediate verified account, which often helps influencers negotiate larger deals.

Data from Apptopia Daily app suggest downloads in the United States for Byte, Dubsmash, Triller and Likee have all jumped. In particular, Dubsmash more than doubled to over 46,000 downloads last Thursday. Byte skyrocketed to over 28,000 downloads on Thursday versus just 3,400 the day before.

Dylan Tate, an 18-year-old TikTok user from Greenville, South Carolina with 1.2 million followers, has been promoting reasons why users should move to Byte in his recent TikTok videos, including that Byte gives 100% of ad revenue to its creators.

“I’ve been commenting on people’s TikTok to tell them to go to Byte. Now people are doing it themselves,” he said.

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