TikTok is the Most Downloaded Social Media App—Let’s Talk About the Ban

It’s no secret TikTok’s popularity is through the roof. Between cooking fads, quarantine challenges, and viral dance trends sponsored by A-list celebrities like Jason Derulo and TikTok A-listers such as Charli D’Amelio, TikTok has surpassed every other social media app in downloads.

After the success of Vine—another short-form video app—TikTok’s popularity proves that video platforms and personalized home feeds trump photos, tweets, and instant messages (at least according to the numbers).

Recently, the app has gained more traction than any other social media app—this was especially apparent in March, when it experienced a massive uptick in downloads. This comes as no surprise though, since 60% of TikTok users open the app to find funny or entertaining content, and March was when the COVID-19 lockdown was in full swing.

More About TikTok

TikTok launched in 2016 and in the U.S. alone the app has reached more than 100 million users. The app has become a Gen Z culture staple—so much so that in March the average TikTok user spent an average of 800 minutes on the app. That shakes out to about twenty-five minutes per day and 200 minutes (3.3 hours) per week.

Gen Z’s favorite app outpaces its competitors by 130 million downloads

What Makes TikTok So Popular?

There are a few key reasons for TikTok’s success. For one, TikTok offers short bursts of distraction. Since most videos are shorter than fifteen seconds, TikTok makes it easy for users to get an instantaneous social media entertainment fix.

TikTok also plays host to a number of viral videos—many of which originate from unassuming accounts with low follower counts. Unlike a viral tweet usually doesn’t bring a user out of obscurity, TikTok’s virality can mean overnight TikTok stardom. Because many users turn into viral sensations, there is incentive to upload more videos and engage with the app more frequently.

Users also remain engaged with the app thanks to a flurry of hashtags and challenges that promote trending dances, pranks, challenges, and more. One of the reasons TikTok is more appealing than other apps is because it offers users new ways to interact online: For example, users can duet other videos and get creative with video editing, and attempt to spark viral trends themselves.

TikTok’s success is also due to its “For You” page, which customizes users' main video feed to feature videos each user is most interested in. While the concept of a “For You” page isn’t original to TikTok, the app’s algorithm beat Facebook and Instagram to the punch.

How Does TikTok Compare to Facebook?

TikTok beats out the longtime social media company in both ratings and downloads per month. But TikTok’s increasing popularity isn’t news to Facebook. To counter TikTok, Facebook bet money on the release of an app named Lasso, which functioned similarly to TikTok.

Lasso featured fifteen-second clips where users could overlap popular songs on their videos. Drawing on Facebook’s personalization feed technology, the app was set to mirror TikTok’s “For You” page to customize users’ main feeds.

Instead of directly competing with TikTok, Facebook’s strategy was to gain Lasso traction in markets TikTok doesn’t currently dominate—specifically in countries where TikTok isn’t available (like Mexico). Since advertising is Facebook’s bread and butter, the company felt strongly it could compete well with TikTok, especially since TikTok’s advertisement retention rates aren’t all that impressive.

Much to the dismay of Facebook, though, Lasso wasn’t successful. Instead of focusing its efforts on Lasso, Facebook has since turned its attention to Instagram’s Reels.

How Does TikTok Compare to Instagram?

TikTok’s customer ratings fall short of Instagram’s, but its download rates are higher. Instagram’s influencer breeding ground is being outpaced by TikTok’s influencers—since TikTok is more conducive to virality than Instagram is.

Similar to Lasso, Instagram released Reels, which allows users to post their “Stories” permanently. Reels also let users post fifteen-second videos and edit them using AR effects, audio, and a myriad of other customizable tools. Instagram’s Explore page shows Reels to thousands of other users.

The only problem? Instagram users can choose how private or public they wish to be, while TikTok videos are entirely public. Plus, 87% of TikTok users see right through Instagram’s Reel, citing it as duping TikTok’s “For You” page.

Here’s Why the TikTok Ban is Problematic

Legally, the TikTok ban violates Fifth Amendment protection rights for due process. In demanding that TikTok pays the U.S. government for the sale of TikTok, President Trump is technically taking TikTok’s property without compensation. By preventing TikTok Inc. from operating within the states on the basis that the app poses an unusual and extraordinary threat, the U.S. government is also violating the company’s First Amendment rights.

In response, TikTok Inc. filed a lawsuit, which according to the company, will focus on the constitutional right to due process. President Trump’s decision to not allow a business to operate within the U.S. represents executive overreach and jeopardizes TikTok workers’ constitutional rights (such as the right to be paid).

The Status of the TikTok Ban

On September 3, 2020, TikTok Inc. filed a motion for an injunction to delay the Department of Commerce from enforcing President Trump’s August 6th order. This bought the company time to continue to pay wages and salaries to U.S. employees and continue operating within the U.S.

Technically speaking, the U.S. Government can’t delete every TikTok account off every device in the U.S. since that lies in the jurisdiction of the companies that control the app stores. But, though the U.S. government has not banned an app before, that doesn't mean it’s impossible.

The likelihood of Google and Apple, the companies controlling the app stores, complying with President Trump’s request is low. In general, these companies have taken a strong stance against government and law enforcement involvement in their businesses.

Thanks to growing tensions between the U.S. and China, for TikTok to continue to operate in the U.S., an American company needs to purchase the app—according to President Trump’s executive order. Oracle and Microsoft were in talks to buy the app, but ultimately Oracle reportedly won the bid.

Read next: Americans Have Mixed Feelings About Social Media, Recent Report Reveals
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