TikTok is China’s Most Important Export Right NowMay 17, 2019
Silicon Valley may have begun the era of social media, but its future could be in China. From a report: Tensions between America and China are pushing the world’s two largest economies into an escalating trade war. President Donald Trump continues to threaten a tariff hike on more Chinese goods. So it’s a strange time for one of the most popular social media platforms in the US — in the world for that matter — to be Chinese. Eschewing typical forms of Chinese soft power, TikTok could be the arrival of a subtler form of algorithmic influence, with sophisticated Chinese AI controlling what becomes viral content potentially shared among millions of young Americans. Which isn’t unlike the global influence Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been exerting for the last decade. Silicon Valley may have begun the era of social media, but its future could be in China. TikTok, a video-sharing app designed by a Beijing-based tech company called ByteDance, became the first Chinese-owned app to reach No. 1 in the US Apple App Store last November (it’s since fallen to below 20th place). And oddly, its success in the States has come by embracing strongly features that fly in the face of American platforms but are central to Chinese social media: It aggressively mines user data, its videos require sound, it is largely oriented around a central recommendation algorithm instead of a network of friends and family, it emphasizes memes and challenges over individual influencers, and it continues to add addictive features to make it impossible to avoid bingeing as Silicon Valley offers dubious tools to curb screentime. TikTok’s head of global marketing, Stefan Heinrich Henriquez, based out of its LA office, played down the app’s Chinese provenance. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, he said there’s nothing particularly different about working for ByteDance as opposed to an American tech company. Yet considering how TikTok’s been covered in the US media in the last six months, it seems unlikely it can shake its reputation as a Chinese app.
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