The Chinese social network TikTok’s decision to withdraw from Hong Kong on Tuesday to protest controversial security legislation was part of a broader campaign to win Washington’s favor. . A strategy that currently does not bear fruit, but which proves to be crucial for TikTok’s future.
It’s the last straw. The social network that went the longest to protest the controversial new national security law introduced in Hong Kong is owned by a Chinese group. TikTok, the short video-sharing app that is all the rage among teens and teens, announced Tuesday, July 7, that it will withdraw from semi-autonomous territory in the coming days. Its US competitors – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – have decided to remain, while specifying that they would refuse any requests from the Chinese authorities to gain access to the data collected about Hong Kong users.
TikTok’s attitude can be expensive for Bytedance, the parent company based in China. “Like all other Chinese technology groups, the agency needs approvals to operate in China,” reminiscent of the Wall Street Journal. Challenging the authorities in such a sensitive issue as the status of Hong Kong can complicate the renewal of the precious sesame.
Risk of ban in the US
But choosing TikTok can also pay big dividends in the United States. The social network really hopes to return to the good graces in Washington that took it in flu. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that “seriously considered banning“TikTok in the United States, during an interview with the conservative channel Fox News, July 6.
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“If you want your personal information to fall into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, use TikTok,” said the head of US diplomacy. The accusation of being a Beijing Trojan is not new. In reality, it has been more than a year that American political leaders, both in the Republican and Democratic camps, have asked more seriously for this young social network, launched just three years ago and used by plus 25 million Americans.
It all started with one survey on methods for moderating content from TikTok, published in September 2019 by the British daily The Guardian. The London newspaper was able to get lists of topics that are not straightforward on the platform, which more or less coincided with the Chinese authorities’ concerns (separatism, social movements). TikTok responded that these rules were no longer in effect and dated from a time when the group primarily wanted to promote “fun” content. But Guardian’s revelations confirmed an article published a month earlier by the Washington Post, which was surprised noticeable lack of content related to social concerns in Hong Kong at a time when it was raging demonstrations there.
It was enough for US officials to decide to take TikTok into the club for the big bad Chinese wolves, together with electronics giant Huawei and telecom group ZTE. At the request of Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, with the support of Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer, an official investigationlaunched in November 2019 to find out if TikTok poses a threat to US national security.
These politicians were not just about censorship. The second problem comes from “a Chinese law of 2017 that obliges Chinese groups to cooperate in an intelligence operation”, is reminiscent of the US website Vox. In other words, the fear is that Beijing will be able to access all personal information from US TikTok users.
From “Made in China” to “Made in the United States”
The defensive social network may have repeated after each accusation that the data collected in the United States is stored on US soil and in Singapore and is therefore not covered by Chinese law, and that the group is a separate unit from Bytedance with its own offices in the US and its own board members, nothing has happened.
TikTok then continued the offensive, doubling its efforts to appear as American as possible. Bytedance has recruited several US officials and has reduced the amount of Chinese content displayed in the US user stream, the Wall Street Journal has learned. He would also have thought of expanding his business in other Asian countries, to give himself a more international character and would even think of changing the name of his app in the US.
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In June, the social network went into high gear by acquiring an American CEO for the first time. Kevin Mayer, a Disney alumnus, was responsible for better identifying content that was likely to appeal to an American audience and, above all, “calming [les responsables politiques américains, NDR] on the fact that the group is managed by US standards, “emphasizes Philippe Laffont, a manager of hedge funds on the board of Bytedance, interviewed by the Financial Times.
The decision to withdraw from Hong Kong is merely the continuation of this large-scale seduction campaign aimed at the US administration and public opinion. A gesture that should not affect the economy of the social network. With almost 150,000 users, the semi-autonomous territory does not weigh heavily on the audience. In addition, Hong Kong’s addiction to short videos may fall back on Doyun, the official version of TikTok for the Chinese market.
However, this withdrawal is a strong signal as TikTok for the first time shows that it is ready to adapt to Washington’s positions in diplomatic battles with China.
Why so much effort? Bytance dance really takes the risk of waking Beijing in the fire of the beautiful eyes of a country, the United States, which barely represents 4% of its global audience.
The reason for this belly dance is actually in three letters: IPO, the abbreviation for the initial public offer, ie an IPO. Bytance Dance, currently the most “expensive” startup in the world (its value is estimated at $ 76 billion), intends to capitalize on its strong growth by taking its first steps in the financial markets as quickly as possible; potentially starting this year.
To attract as many investors as possible, TikTok must “emerge as a social network on a global level,” the Financial Times emphasizes. “And without the United States, it is simply not possible,” confirms a former chief executive of the Chinese group to the British Financial Day.
The US market is also essential for the Group’s future growth. “Currently, 90% of their revenue comes from app purchases in China. But this market is saturated and other Chinese giants, such as Tencent and Alibaba, are determined to compete with Bytedance in the short video niche. The best option for continuing to grow by attracting new users is to gain market share in the United States, says The Wall Street Journal.
TikTok hopes that all these efforts will pay off. But with an American president like Donald Trump, always anxious to find new scapegoats to feed his anti-Chinese rhetoric, nothing is less certain. This is the whole risk of the Bytedance strategy: anyone who tried to be loved by everyone can be rejected by both Washington and Beijing.