While the question of whether or not TikTok may face fraud charges continues to build, another worrisome issue becomes apparent. The TikTok app has nearly a hundred million subscribers in just two years. This month alone, we have seen numerous high-profile users lose their footing in the social media space when the seams appeared to start crinkling.
The company not only has had trouble controlling and policing its users, but it has made some sizable blunders as well.
TikTok is currently under tremendous pressure. These concerns could make it a difficult startup to succeed or determine whether or not it will actually acquire Instagram’s parent company, Instagram.
Consider Kik’s experience, for example. The rising competitor emerged from the ashes of Yahoo’s media company, and was granted $1 billion in financing. As a non-theoretical startup in a newly emerging field, Kik should have been expected to struggle as the competition mounted and its users caught on to the app’s dark side. Instead, Kik landed over a billion users, but has since struggled to pull itself together.
TikTok might get away with similar flubs, but data analysis is emerging as a signifier of its legitimacy. Now that data has emerged around users’ TikTok activity, it is becoming clear that the online worlds that we participate in feel much more fertile when we can see who is listening to what.
This is the unfortunate fallout of our merging of mobile and social networks. As we move closer to a world where these groups are integrated, I believe we’ll see the inherent power of information to power so many more companies to succeed or suffer.
The crackdown on TikTok’s reputation suggests that users’ understanding of what the app is and does have an impact on what they may believe. If people can see where TikTok comes from — i.e. first it was known as Musical.ly — and how popular it is with others, it seems they will have a greater respect for its legitimacy.
From a company’s perspective, if its popularity has increased in response to social factors as opposed to its own quality, that could lead to awkward at best. If users can attest to the quality of a social platform based on their peers — even if a platform is supposed to be creator-based — they could decide to invest their time on a more trusted alternative.
Is TikTok truly going to suffer a mass exodus of users? Probably not. We know, for example, that because TikTok grew to a massive number of users within two years, those users could easily just move over to Instagram, where they are much more likely to be safe.
This isn’t a new dilemma for the social media space. Instagram grew to about 350 million users before Twitter grabbed back all of the ones who decided to create for the platform that took on Musical.ly. Instagram is the equivalent of Musical.ly when Musical.ly was the equivalent of YouTube. Social software platforms take time to catch on, then even longer to grow while being regulated from up above.
The Twitter comparisons are one way to look at the problems that happen when startups go public. In a public sector, it may be easier to regulate a company’s use of data, and it certainly helps that Facebook is where it all started. This is true even if we are talking about channels that in a public sector haven’t had to face the Federal Trade Commission yet.
The internet is a primarily private, self-regulated area, which can be troublesome when coupled with a lack of government oversight. However, if we can see that every channel we participate in is powered by positive information, companies will not only be trusted to govern themselves, but also will be more attractive to investors.
Look to Amazon as the perfect case study of how information is driving users’ social media practices and their potential adoption of new apps. The company has easily eclipsed the competition thanks to a good reputation among its users.
With that in mind, TikTok needs to start practicing what it preaches. It can’t face court if it doesn’t care how it’s doing so. The app is going to keep growing, and we all need to watch to see if its growth is simply organic, or not.