Back in January, we made a post about digital marketing on TikTok becoming a hot-button issue. We predicted that TikTok will need to respond to the issue. This week, TikTok attempted to do just that by announcing that it is pulling out of the Hong Kong market. The statement came hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed on Monday that the United States is considering a ban on TikTok in the United States.
The move is an attempt to distance the platform from the Chinese government, since many have accused the platform of censoring protest videos in the past. While companies like Facebook and Twitter have also announced their plans to cease service in the region, TikTok’s announcement seems to be more of a reaction to the statement by the Secretary of State rather than as a pre-emptive measure to avoid controversy.
And it is quite a curious move from a platform that is trying to show its independence from the Chinese government. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have shown that they can be used as effective tools for political activism.
In the early days of Facebook, the platform served as a forum for staging anti-FARC marches in Colombia. The marches ended up putting enough pressure on the rebels that they released several hostages. Social media evolved from a way to connect with friends into a legitimate tool for political activism.
More recently, the #MeToo on Twitter gave women a rallying banner to speak out against sexual harassment. The Black Lives Matter movement has used social media as a way to speak out against police brutality, and Youtube videos of police response to the movement has put several officers behind bars.
This seems like a missed opportunity for TikTok: by remaining active in Hong Kong when others have pulled out, the platform could have shown the world that it is willing to stand up to the Chinese government and allow political dissent against its own country on its platform. Instead, TikTok played it safe.
Sometimes, brands have golden opportunities to make a statement about themselves. TikTok seems to have missed its opportunity here, and I don’t know if it will get a better opportunity again. If its new competitor Byte continues to pick up steam, TikTok might have to look back and wonder “What if?” about this one.