News & Insights

TikTok on the Clock, Will the Party Have to Stop?

By Zach Duffy

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Every year, the Pew Research Center releases a report on how Americans are using social media.

The latest report, published in January, showed a meteoric rise in TikTok’s usage – reaching 33% of American adults last year, up 12 percentage points from 2021 (21%).

For organizations, businesses, and campaigns that want to reach people where they are, it’s hard to look at numbers like that and remain off the platform. As our partner Teddy Goff told the New York Times, “The discourse is being shaped by [TikTok] even if you yourself don’t use it.” Even the Biden campaign, naturally sensitive to the geopolitical considerations around TikTok, launched its own presence

An active and growing user base on a social platform gives the company behind it (and its real or perceived government backers) tremendous sway over our political discourse, which is why the push to ban the platform in Congress is coming at the same time.

Last week, the House passed a bill that would force TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, to sell the app or risk having it banned in the United States. While there’s no certainty that the Senate will do the same, it’s an open possibility, and as our partner Mike Spahn told PRWeek, TikTok’s effort to push back with calls to Congress from its users isn’t effectively addressing the underlying concerns. “‘The best way to do that is through explaining the reality of the business.’ [Spahn] adds that the platform must put CEO Shou Zi Chew and other executives in front of cameras to explain its business and to combat concerns about a lack of transparency.”

My colleagues at Precision and I are of course thinking ahead to what it will mean for our clients and our work if TikTok is temporarily or permanently unavailable. A permanent shutdown seems very unlikely, as plenty of companies would want to buy the app if there is a forced sale; but a sale or a temporary shutdown would still have unpredictable consequences for the platform and the algorithm, including the potential departure of TikTok’s creator base to Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts. Until then, TikTok is hugely important and not to be deprioritized just because its fate is uncertain. 

More broadly, the whole saga is a reflection of the much greater scrutiny that we’re putting on the intersections of tech and power, where we’re giving our attention and what risks that carries for what information we’re being shown. TikTok’s circumstances are unique — but looking ahead, we can probably expect that social media strategists will have to consider the political risk of all of the platforms that they’re using alongside the day-to-day strategy that they’re putting together. 


Zach Duffy is a senior vice president on Precision’s digital team with over a decade of experience at the intersection of digital, communications, and politics. He previously served as a digital director at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), chief of staff to a New York State Senator, digital director in the Office of the New York State Attorney General, and deputy director of digital engagement at the Obama White House, where he managed social media for the Obama presidency. At Precision, he leads client teams overseeing digital creative campaigns, advocacy efforts, organizing, fundraising, and strategic communications.

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