TikTok, the mobile video browsing platform, is arguably the fastest-growing media phenomenon in history. Based on providing short videos that have been selected algorithmically to meet user preferences, a predecessor of the platform was rolled out in China in 2016 with an app called Douyin. An internationalised version—TikTok—was launched shortly afterwards, and by 2020 had surpassed two billion downloads.
Almost since inception, TikTok’s growth has been challenged by governments around the world. It has now been banned from devices issued by governments or parliaments (sometimes both) in Britain, Canada and Belgium. The EU and the Danish Ministry of Defence have imposed similar restrictions, and the platform is blocked entirely in India, Afghanistan and elsewhere. In the US, Donald Trump threatened a nationwide ban unless TikTok’s owner, Chinese firm ByteDance, sold operations to a US entity. While Joe Biden initially backtracked on Trump’s threats, 32 US states have nonetheless issued bans comparable to the EU measure, and legislation pending in Congress threatens a total ban on Chinese and Russian-owned social networks operating in America if they are perceived to undermine national security.