Maybe it is a generational thing, but I don’t get TikTok. The social media app allows users to share brief (15-second) videos — as if I need more opportunities to shorten my attention span. I must be an outlier, though: It is one of the most popular apps of the last two years, with a reported 2 billion downloads, and has 10 million users in Japan, 110 million in the United States and 200 million in India (before it was banned in that country). That extraordinary growth has turned its parent, ByteDance, which acquired the app in 2017, into one of the world’s most valuable startup companies, with a value approximating $150 billion.
Its popularity reflects the creativity it nurtures — and a user’s ability to monetize his or her audience. Followers can send money to video creators they like: Tens of millions of dollars have been “gifted” in the U.S. alone in the last two years.
While many consider TikTok a frivolous distraction, it originated in China and in today’s supercharged politics, that means it is suspect. The U.S. government has warned that TikTok constitutes a security threat and President Donald Trump has said that he will ban the app as a result. He announced last weekend that he would order the company to stop doing business in the U.S. by Sept. 15, although it could continue to operate if it was sold to a U.S. company. (Microsoft is reportedly in negotiations to acquire the company’s U.S. operations.)