TikTok Ban and Threats to Business Social Media Marketing

As Congress debates a total US TikTok ban, it seems logical to discuss that and other threats to businesses using social media marketing. We’ll focus on how you can respond proactively to changes likely coming down the pike so your business doesn’t suffer. Social media platforms are currently facing a broad range of legal challenges that span issues related to content moderation, children’s safety, bias and misinformation, and the mental health impacts of platform use. Here’s a summary of some key pending legal issues, as well as other changes that impact your business and its use of social media marketing and how you can proactively respond to these challenges.

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Social media marketing

Social media, in general, and TikTok specifically face a series of legal challenges, from legislatures that want to ban TikTok to content challenges that want social media platforms to exercise more and less moderation simultaneously.

And that’s only one challenge facing companies, especially small businesses, that use social media to support sales and creatives who make their living on social media platforms. Add to this algorithm changes that resulted in a severe drop in organic social media traffic to a company website and increasing costs for social media advertising (as much as $7 increase in CPM on Facebook) and you can see that social media marketing faces an uncertain landscape. Other changes, such as social commerce, are challenging the ways businesses interact on social media to make social media marketing more confusing. We’re here to help you navigate this landscape to ensure your business survives.

TikTok ban and other legislation impacting social media marketing

Last Thursday, a powerful House committee unanimously supported a total TikTok ban if ByteDance, the parent of the company, doesn’t divest ownership. In rare bipartisanship, both houses of Congress and the White House favor a ban with fines for anyone with the app. The fear is that ByteDance, a Chinese company, shares user information with the Chinese government, which creates a national security risk for the US. While there’s a fluidity between Chinese companies and the Chinese government that makes such sharing a logical concern, I’m not convinced that this sharing helps the Chinese or represents a security threat to the US government. After all, most things shared on TikTok are nonsense and the platform is easily scraped by anyone with a rudimentary understanding of building code, as most of the content is public. As with all other forms of social media, the bigger concern is giving foreign governments another outlet for spewing false and biased information that might sway voters in November. Let’s unpack some of the pros and cons of a TikTok ban.

Pros

  1. According to Pew Research, Americans support a TikTok ban by a two-to-one margin. Of course, you should take any poll on any topic with a grain of salt. I’m a big fan of something Mark Twain once said:

There are lies, damn lies, and statistics

Not only did he refer to his own data challenges, but the fact that statistics, even when used improperly, carry a lot of weight. And while I’m a strong advocate of data-driven decision-making, I recognize the challenges inherent in doing proper research. Most research fails to meet the number of respondents necessary for valid decisions (recall the inaccuracy of nearly every political poll for the last decade) and uses questions that lead respondents to the desired answers. It takes a lot of expertise and a strong desire for unbiased results to construct and administer an objective research study. Believe me. I’ve been an academic researcher for decades, and it only takes a cursory glance to find fault in most of these “studies”.

Besides, just because people believe something is true doesn’t make it so. Otherwise, we’d have responsible gun control, which is supported by nearly 60% of Americans, according to Pew Research.

2. ByteDance shares information with the Chinese government

While there’s no clear evidence that this happens and ByteDance argues for independence from the government, I have no doubt that the Chinese have all the information they need to interfere with our elections and, frankly, do whatever they can with the data just as they can with every other social media platform. The report shown to the committee offered no support for the danger posed by TikTok that would justify a ban. A TikTok ban means virtually nothing when it comes to protecting privacy online. And that’s the key here. Privacy on social media platforms is a myth and once something goes online, anyone with some expertise can hack into private accounts. Most users share everything publicly anyway.

Despite being unable to show a real threat to national security, the US has banned TikTok on government-issued devices. Of course, many employees in sensitive areas are banned from ALL social media sites regardless of their devices. That didn’t stop a National Guard member from sharing sensitive information on Discord, a social media platform primarily used by gamers.

3. TikTok is dangeroustiktok age demographic breakdown

This argument goes something like this: users on TikTok are much younger than on other social media platforms (see the graphic above), and exposing them to “dangerous” content can turn them gay or make them uncomfortable about their history or some other nonsense. If knowledge is power, why should we shield anyone from the truth? Terms of use allow social platforms, including TikTok, to remove truly offensive content that violates these terms, such as pornography and self-harm.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has historically protected platforms from liability for content posted by their users, is under scrutiny. The Supreme Court is considering cases that may redefine the extent of this liability protection, especially in relation to platforms’ use of algorithms to recommend content. These cases involve allegations that platforms facilitated terrorist activities through their recommendation algorithms. Of course, a TikTok ban would not fix this problem, as its a common practice for all social media platforms.

Consumer protection lawsuits have been filed against social media companies, in general. Over 40 states have filed lawsuits against Meta (the owner of Facebook and Instagram), accusing the company of harming children through addictive features and misleading users about their products’ risks. These lawsuits utilize state consumer-protection laws as a novel tactic to potentially circumvent Section 230 protections. Similar strategies are being employed against TikTok, focusing on claims related to the platform’s safety and its ties to China.

Multidistrict litigation on social media harm in California is awaiting adjudication. Over 400 social media harm lawsuits are pending in multidistrict litigation in California, with most cases filed against Meta’s Facebook and Instagram. These lawsuits allege that heavy use of social media is linked to mental health problems among children and teenagers, including addiction, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. The litigation argues that Meta knew about the addictive design and harmful effects of its platforms on children and teenagers.

Cons

  1. It negates free speech

Free speech is the bedrock of a democracy. Attempts by the government to interfere with free speech are enshrined as the first item in the Bill of Rights. That doesn’t protect all speech, as private individuals and companies can block speech that doesn’t fit their goals. Thus, a TikTok ban would violate the First Amendment, while removing false information from the platform by company censors does not.

Due to free speech issues, most social media platforms are also under legal threat. The Supreme Court is expected to resolve several cases that directly impact social media platforms, including challenges to social media content moderation efforts and state laws designed to regulate how social media companies moderate content, specifically regarding the prohibition of “censoring” conservative voices. This is a unique perspective, as there’s nothing in the Constitution or its amendments that keeps a company from determining what types of speech it allows.

Another set of cases involves public officials’ ability to block critics from their social media accounts, which raises questions about the boundaries between personal and official communication on these platforms. It’ll be interesting to watch the results.

2. It would harm users

Here I’m not talking about 12-year-olds using the platform for entertainment. I’m talking about companies (maybe your own), influencers, and creatives who use the platform to support their efforts. Here’s what TikTok said in a post on X (formerly Twitter):

“This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States,” the company wrote. “The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country.”

In response to a popup on the platform, users flooded the phones and emails of their Congressional leaders with demands that the TikTok ban be defeated.

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How to prepare your social media marketing for these challenges

Diversify

Diversifying your social media marketing efforts has always been a good strategy. Don’t bet on any one channel. That way, if the TikTok ban goes through, you don’t have to start from scratch on a new platform. We already faced this challenge once as traffic on X declined after Musk took over. We can do it again with proper planning. Choose a few other social media platforms that fit your target market and begin building them up with consistent content or put more effort into your existing efforts on the platforms.

Paid advertising

Don’t count on organic social media traffic or you’re sunk. Expand your marketing budget to include social media advertising as a significant part of your strategy. Since costs for these ads are increasing, consider flighting or pulsing your campaigns to get more bang for your buck. Also, pay close attention to targeting by choosing your audience carefully and monitoring performance to modify your audience to optimize your ROAS (return on advertising spend), not just clicks.

Consider new marketing tactics

Consider changing up your marketing tactics. For instance, you might add more traditional advertising to supplement your digital advertising. By integrating your marketing tactics, you get synergies that drive higher performance. Consider local and hyperlocal advertising if your business serves a small geographical area.

You might also add social commerce to your business model by opening a store on Facebook Marketplace, creating shoppable ads on social platforms, or selling through third parties, like Amazon, as a way to improve sales without increasing your budget.

Monitor proposed legislation

It’s always a good tactic to stay ahead of changes by monitoring anything that might impact your business, like the proposed TikTok ban, so you can quickly adapt to them. Be proactive in terms of the content you produce to avoid the potential of falling into trouble if content rules change. Focus on creating quality content that exercises the most stringent rules to avoid problems.

Conclusion

These legal issues highlight the complex interplay between technology, law, and society, as courts and legislatures grapple with how to regulate the vast digital landscapes created by social media platforms. The outcomes of these cases could have significant implications for how social media operates, especially concerning content moderation practices, liability protections, and the platforms’ responsibility for user safety.

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Hausman and Associates, the publisher of MKT Maven, is a full-service marketing agency operating at the intersection of marketing and digital media. Check out our full range of services.