As TikTok's existential roller coaster ride continues to rattle on, the company is trying to sway regulators and the public with a flood of dollars and arguments wrapped in free enterprise and free speech to ensure that its parent company ByteDance can retain control of its operations.
The push to validate its business comes as reports swirl around a potential presidential ban and bid from Microsoft to take over the company's business in the U.S.
As it confronts domestic competitors and political attacks, TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have picked up some defenders from the American civil rights movement.
Banning an app like TikTok, which millions of Americans use to communicate with each other, is a danger to free expression and technologically impractical. https://t.co/ZbN7f2TOwF
— ACLU (@ACLU) August 1, 2020
"With any Internet platform, we should be concerned about the risk that sensitive private data will be funneled to abusive governments, including our own," the ACLU wrote in a subsequent statement. "But shutting one platform down, even if it were legally possible to do so, harms freedom of speech online and does nothing to resolve the broader problem of unjustified government surveillance."
Meanwhile, the sentiment in China seems resigned to the U.S. forcing ByteDance to divest of its U.S. interests. In a survey by Sina Technology on the social media platform, Weibo asking what people think of ByteDance potentially selling TikTok to Microsoft, 36.7K of the total 75.3K respondents saw it as “a reluctant and helpless solution that’s understandable,” while 35.1K said they are “disappointed and hope [the company] can hold up for a bit more”. https://m.weibo.cn/1642634100/4533238409991735
Even as ownership of the service remains an open question, the company moved quickly to reassure its users that TikTok would continue to operate in the U.S.
The company is also redoubling its efforts to appeal to creators even as it faces defections over its potential mishandling of user data.
Founded in 2015, two years before TikTok began its explosive rise to prominence, Triller is backed by some of the biggest names in American music and entertainment, including Snoop Dogg, The Weeknd, Marshmello, Lil Wayne, Juice WRLD, Young Thug, Kendrick Lamar, Baron Davis, Tyga, TI, Jake Paul and Troy Carter.
Now, TikTok stars Josh Richards, Griffin Johnson, Noah Beck and Anthony Reeves are joining their ranks as investors and advisors. Richards, Johnson, Beck and Reeves are also being compensated by Triller, but the reason they cited for leaving the service are the security concerns from governments.
Triller is compensating Richards, Johnson, Beck and Reeves, though the details of the deals are undisclosed. Despite that, the creators say they’re leaving TikTok because they’ve grown wary of the Chinese-owned company’s security practices.
“After seeing the U.S. and other countries’ governments’ concerns over TikTok—and given my responsibility to protect and lead my followers and other influencers—I followed my instincts as an entrepreneur and made it my mission to find a solution,” Richards, who's assuming the title of chief strategy officer, told the LA Times.
TikTok has responded by announcing a dramatic increase in the company's creator fund. Initially set at $200 million, in a blog post earlier this week, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer announced that the fund would reach $1 billion over the next three years.
TikTok's charm offensive may stave off the assaults, but the company will need to address concerns around user data. It's the most pressing threat to the company and the one it's least equipped to deal with.