Facebook, Google, and the US government each have their own reasons to make you believe that TikTok is scary — but they're all self-serving

Facebook, Google, and the US government each have their own reasons to make you believe that TikTok is scary — but they're all self-serving
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  • President Trump and the US government have been considering a ban on TikTok over long-held concerns regarding its ties to China, and its access to user data and influence over content moderation.
  • The threat of a TikTok ban would mean that the app's massive US userbase, estimated to be near 80 million, is up for grabs, and US tech companies are already capitalizing with new apps and formats borrowing from TikTok's viral short-form video format.
  • Concerns over national and data security are leveled against TikTok as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and other US tech companies ready to face lawmakers' scrutiny over antitrust issues.
  • In a rare occurrence, the Trump administration and US tech companies have found themselves as allies in the fight against TikTok, as they all come after the China-based app with their own motives.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is coming to Wednesday's antitrust hearing bringing attention to the one issue he and President Donald Trump can actually agree on: China.

Wednesday's hearing will see the CEOs of America's most powerful tech companies — Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google — in front of Congress as they face hours grilling over any potential violations of antitrust regulations. But even as lawmakers and tech executives are poised to face-off, the two sides have otherwise found common ground in their battle against the social network called TikTok.

Zuckerberg's remarks, published Tuesday night, are seemingly catered directly to Trump: The Facebook CEO is preparing to frame Facebook as a story of homegrown American success, whose future is threatened by authoritarian China. While Zuckerberg doesn't harness the same racist and discriminatory rhetoric Trump frequently uses to attack China, the bottom line paints the picture of China as the common enemy.

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The Trump administration will be watching Silicon Valley's most notable leaders closely Wednesday, but the government's attention has been otherwise monopolized by the potential threats that an app from China could pose. TikTok's roots in China — where the app's parent company, ByteDance, is located — have long raised questions from US lawmakers and security experts about how much access and influence the Chinese government has over user data and content moderation. TikTok has tried to demonstrate it's distancing itself from its Chinese roots, launching a content advisory council to guide policy changes and appointing a US-based CEO in June.

But TikTok's China ties have attracted more attention when earlier this month, both President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly said they were considering a TikTok ban in the US: Trump said the ban would be a way to punish China over its role in the coronavirus pandemic, while Pompeo cited national security concerns.


Since coming to the US in 2018, TikTok has grown into a social media powerhouse and established itself as a staple of internet culture and social interaction for Generation Z. The app has more than 2 billion global downloads, and an estimated US userbase as high as 80 million. It outperforms US-based apps with younger audiences such as Snapchat and Instagram in both new downloads and time spent.

Although the imminent threat of TikTok disappearing from the US has signaled panic among users and creators, it's been a sign of opportunity for Silicon Valley.

US-based tech companies have already capitalized on the chaos to lure the app's loyal following to their competing platforms. Big names like Snapchat and Google had toyed with creating TikTok competitors in the past, but have only just recently used the app's uncertain future to roll out viable products. Zuckerberg's Facebook, meanwhile, is expected to roll out a new TikTok-like format inside of Instagram Stories called Reel to users in the US in early August.

Although Zuckerberg will surely face questions Wednesday about whether Facebook's acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp have stifled competition, the CEO won't have to worry about facing issues over Reels' attempt to compete with China's TikTok.

Zuckerberg's attempt to channel Trump's patriotic rhetoric comes as the president's political campaign runs ads on Facebook and Instagram accusing TikTok of "spying" on its users. The accusation is based on research from March showing how apps are able to access content stored on the clipboard — the copy-and-paste feature — of users' iPhones and iPads. TikTok was only one of the dozens of the apps (including) LinkedIn and Fox News caught spying on iPhone clipboards, but that didn't stop the Trump campaign from turning the story into anti-TikTok ammunition.


Of the major players who oversee the digital town squares through which Americans interact and disseminate information, TikTok is one of the biggest that won't sit down Wednesday in front of Congress. It won't have to answer lawmakers' questions, but it's sure to be the subject of subtle jabs and implications from the tech CEOs capitalizing on showing off their nationalism in DC.