Politics and TikTok are merging: is this alarming or a breakthrough?


Jaeeun Park and Lauren Guss

   Over 800 million people from around the world inhabit the energetic, positive and fast-paced world of Tiktok, but the app holds more than just videos of dancing and P.O.V.s. A political side has emerged on the video-sharing app and has even threatened the presidential election through its ties to China and the prominent political voice of Generation Z.

   AP Human Geography teacher Mrs. Rojas, explains, “Teens today are much more aware of the world around them than my generation just 25 years ago.  I grew up during the Iraqi war of the 1990s and very few of my peers (myself included) knew what was going on even though it was on the news every night.”

   Most TikToks are short, hastily edited video clips capturing moments of life. It takes less commitment and has less regulations than YouTube, so it is much easier for users to post content. People upload sightings of public injustice, speak on their viewpoints and end up on “For You” pages of those who feel the same. The voice of the people has never been so strong.

   The U.S. is TikTok’s most profitable market, but its ties to China pose a concern to President Trump. The app is owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, and Trump explained it will collect users’ data and give it to the Chinese government, according to the Washington Post. However, ByteDance has asserted this as false news, as reported by The Washington Post. 

   The app has run out of China, but doesn’t abide by some of the country’s rules. In TikTok’s privacy policy, it states, “We may disclose your information to respond to subpoenas, court orders, legal process, law enforcement requests, legal claims, or government inquiries” without specifying which government.

   Like any other social media site nowadays, TikTok collects nodes of information about the user’s interests and network through tracking the content the user has watched and liked, as well as using their “friends” on the app to create millions of personalized combinations of videos to interest them. In order for the app to function, it must gather data, and that stored data is a liability.

   Even with the actions TikTok has taken to keep people’s information from the Chinese government, Trump signed an executive order on the week of Aug. 10 that would force a U.S. company to buy TikTok from ByteDance or threatened to ban it in the United States as of Sep. 20. He explains how TikTok is a threat to national security and data privacy, saying the app will “potentially [allow] China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage,” as reported by Variety.

   In a twitter message from TikTok’s Communications Team on Sep. 19, it was announced that “Oracle, and Walmart will resolve the security concerns of the US Administration and settle questions around TikTok’s future in the US.” Oracle will be handling the user data to ensure safety and security of the app’s users while making certain that “US national security requirements are fully satisfied.” Walmart is participating in a commercial partnership with Oracle and both companies will take part in “a TikTok Global pre-IPO financing round in which they can take up to a 20% cumulative stake in the company.” This will keep the platform in the App Store and remove any concerns of ties to the Chinese government. 

   Oracle CEO Safra Catz, a former member of Trump’s transition team, commented on this new deal on Sep. 12: “‘We are a hundred percent confident in our ability to deliver a highly secure environment to TikTok and ensure data privacy to TikTok’s American users, and users throughout the world…This greatly improved security and guaranteed privacy will enable the continued rapid growth of the TikTok user community to benefit all stakeholders,’” according to CNBC. 

   While there is room on the app for unedited, factual videos of current issues as well as reliable words from primary sources, there is still the possibility of false information about these arguments being spread. Since the “for you page” pushes content related to one’s interests and beliefs out to them, there is a high chance that many will only see one-sided viewpoints on issues they care about.

   Mrs. Rojas mused, “I think it is important to see a variety of viewpoints. However, we have to realize when reading a post by an individual that it may not be accurate and with expressing our own opinion, there is inherent bias.” She stressed that consumers of the app need to be aware that creators usually post their views and facts in a way that supports their cause.

   Instances of finding fake news are common, especially on social media platforms, because someone may receive more followers if they make posts appealing to certain demographics. Credibility is not justified by the app itself and users are responsible for the data they choose to believe.

   On the other hand, social media platforms have been beneficial to this generation for spreading awareness on news and current events. Layla Hughes, COC-bound student and BLM activist states, “I get most of my news on politics from Twitter, it is definitely biased depending on what party’s opinions you’re following, but it is also updated by real people in real time, and democracy revolves around the people and our opinions.” The user-specific algorithms of TikTok limit the range of what is shown to the consumer in exchange for instant access to relatable content.

   India banned the use of TikTok in June along with other Chinese-owned companies including WeChat, Baidu and Weibo. The country made up over 40% of users on the app.

   The majority of users are Gen Z, advocates for change for issues that have been brushed off in the past.

   In recent months, TikTok has been a beneficial space for creators to share their personal stories about topics like BLM, ICE, and political matters like the president and government. Short clips of peaceful protests turned violent by police were shared earlier in the year, showing content from a bystander’s viewpoint.

   Many users enjoy using the app to share their thoughts because of the audience they receive and the accessibility of the platform.

   West Ranch sophomore Jillian Lim uses TikTok to find new topics to learn about. “Most of the time I’ll catch wind of something on social media or from a peer, and I’ll do further research about the topic through the news or government owned websites,” she shared. Lim explained that she makes sure to fact-check with credible sources as she also believes that “a lot of people have opinions on things that they are ill-informed on.” 

   Political exposure on the app does come with its downsides. Mrs. Rojas believes all the circulating news on real-world events can take a negative toll on students’ mental health. They are “constantly bombarded with these sad world events.  Although, I think it is great that [they] are informed, I do think it’s harmful that [they] are seeing it 24/7.” She has seen firsthand the effect of this early exposure on her students in the past few years and thinks social media may rush them into learning things about the world before they are prepared to handle the information.

   TikTok has made an unexpectedly large impact on the political climates of the world by opening another forum for those of differing governmental opinions to express their arguments. They prompt others to respond or disagree through duets and encourage viewers to form their own judgements on the topic.

   In the grand scheme of things, news is one of the most important aspects in our daily life. How it is spread through social media and its veracity, however, commonly spikes controversy. This is a major player in politics nowadays, affecting people’s viewpoints and provoking action between conflicting opinions. 

   In a time when our voices have been amplified so that people on the other side of the world can hear them in real time, we must take extra caution in using those voices and listening to what people say. Words carry a greater impact than ever, and users have more responsibility when posting on social media.