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Why is TikTok engulfed in controversy? And if you want alternatives, what are they?

207’s tech guy offers some answers to those and other questions about the hugely popular app.

PORTLAND, Maine — Rich Brooks of Flyte New Media in Portland joins us regularly on 207 to talk about what’s happening in the world of technology. Our latest conversation focused on TikTok. Here are the talking points Rich covered.

TikTok has been in the news lately and not for the right reasons. For people who may not be familiar with the app, how does it work? 

TikTok is a video-sharing app that allows anyone to create and share short-form videos. It attracts a younger demographic, with 25% of users under 19, and only 11% above 50.

Users can just scroll through video after video, and TikTok is known for its very aggressive, very insightful algorithm that tends to keep people on the app for long periods of time.

It's gotten a lot of press over the past couple of years with concerns around how addictive the app can be, and the impact it's having on the mental health of its users, especially young women.

But that's not the latest bit of bad news, is it? In fact, there are calls for the government to ban the app outright. What's behind that?

The company behind TikTok is Chinese, and there are concerns around the data it is gathering about its users--specifically, its American users. Because of the growing tensions between the US and China--and the recent concern around the Chinese weather/spy/surveillance balloon that floated across the US--this is becoming a big issue.

Many states and certain federal agencies have banned TikTok on gov't owned phones, seeing it as a potential security threat, and now there is a bill that's gaining momentum about limiting business with foreign countries that are considered adversaries. The bill could allow the president to force TikTok to be sold to an American company to continue, or to shut it down.

Beyond dance videos and popular trends, there are a lot of people who use TikTok to express political views...wouldn't shutting down TikTok be a violation of their right to free speech?

Many legal experts think so, which is why Donald Trump's attempt to ban TikTok never went anywhere. Some people might suggest that there are plenty of other sites where people can express their political opinion that isn't owned by companies from adversarial companies, so that might be the counterargument. But I'm no legal expert.

If the US gov't does end up banning TikTok, what happens next? Where do the creators go?

Because of TikTok's viral popularity, there are a lot of imitators out there. Meta, the parent of Facebook and Instagram, has a knock-off product called Reels. YouTube, owned by Google, now offers Shorts, which are basically the same thing. Even Twitter has jumped into the fray with a derivative product. So, there are other platforms for creators to move to.

Of course, TikTok won't immediately go away. It will still be on people's phones, but over time the app won't be able to be updated, and I'm sure someone will figure out a way to limit the ability for people to create new content, which would starve the app.

You consult with businesses on social media...what recommendations do you have for businesses about continuing or stopping TikTok?

I'd recommend companies keep doing what they're doing. If you're active on TikTok and you have built an audience there, keep plugging away. If you're not using it, there's no good reason to jump in now.

But if you're doing business with the government, you may want to explore some other platforms...just to be on the safe side.

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