WESLEY.INTEL: TikTok ban may not work

When the ban becomes a reality it will be a step back, the writer says. Image: Kon Karampelas/Pixabay

When the ban becomes a reality it will be a step back, the writer says. Image: Kon Karampelas/Pixabay

Published Mar 26, 2024


American lawmakers have taken steps to show they are serious about banning TikTok, if the Chinese parent company ByteDance does not sell to a US company.

When the ban becomes a reality it will be a step back.

A ban is something that I associate with a terrible past.

As news of the TikTok ban emerged I wondered about the possibility of banning an information platform in our modern-era.

Calls for a ban reminded me of what happened to publishers whose books were banned whenever they published something contrary to popular views.

It’s always troubling for society whenever an authoritative entity is advocating for banning anything. Today we have the privilege of reading some of the most important books which were banned at some point.

One would have thought that by now everyone has learnt a lesson about the futility of banning anything. In my view, banning anything that disseminates information does not work.

History tells us that banning anything that disseminates information does not work.Rulers of the world who tried to ban important books and information repositories failed dismally. All they did was to delay the distribution.

Today, some of the best books ever written were once banned. The history of technology also tells us that banning information platforms often fail. They only manage to frustrate the short-term success of those who are banned. In the long run information platforms that are banned often survive.

Think WikiLeaks, a platform created by Julian Assange. WikiLeaks was designed to reveal information you were not supposed to see.

At some point the information platform shared information that revealed how privacy was violated. It seems some of these revelations triggered very powerful countries to prevent WikiLeaks from publishing such information.

We now know that it was almost impossible to close down WikiLeaks. The information platform was designed in such a way that its presence would not be disturbed.

Closure of the platform in one country triggered a resurrection of another version in a different location. WikiLeaks used servers across countries. It had several domains (web addresses) making it accessible even if one domain name was shut down.

The story of WikiLeaks should serve as a reminder that modern means of communication as well as information platforms cannot easily be banned.

TikTok’s parent company Byte Dance knows this very well.

The company has already created another version of TikTok which is known as Lemon8.

The app which caters to a Gen Z audience, features a mix of TikTok-like videos and Instagram-like photos. One online news platform had this headline describing the latest on the app: “TikTok’s Sister App Lemon8 Grew 160%, Boosts Influencer Marketing.”

Bear in mind that this is just one known replica of TikTok, it’s possible there’s more in different countries.

In my books, this is one indication that it would be impossible to effectively ban TikTok.

I can also confirm, based on my study of Chinese tech companies, that one of their secret weapons is to build tech companies that are difficult to destroy. They are built to withstand bans and other forms of competition disguised as justifiable legislative actions.

The TikTok name may not always be with us. The technology behind TikTok will however re-emerge under a different brand name driven by the same business principles that brought us TikTok.

Instead of banning TikTok, those who really care should address the real challenges presented by social media platforms across the globe.

Targeting one social media platform will not work, instead another similar one will come from China or any other country. Will that one be banned as well?

Wesley Diphoko has been working at the intersection of technology and media as an editor of FastCompany (SA) magazine, a technology analyst on SABC radio stations, and developing technology solutions in the township economy. You can follow him on X via: WesleyDiphoko

Wesley Diphoko. Photo: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers