By Dagny Zenovia
As fast as a TikTok challenge, community empowerment and government threats surrounding TikTok evolve with lightening speed. Since our last post about TikTok in Africa, there have been more developments on how TikTok is being used and accepted in Africa. This is also in contrast with what TikTok is dealing with in the US. Is it business as usual? Or is there more than meets the eye?
TikTok’s Popularity and Challenges in Africa
Regarding TikTok’s presence in Africa, a divide is gradually forming between developing a digital workforce and adhering to laws and traditions. Currently, TikTok has dedicated social media accounts for Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya. The notion that African governments would be more open to keeping TikTok in their region is based on the value of China’s continued investments throughout the continent, which in 2018 was approximately $72 million. This month, TikTok South Africa launched its SkillsUp webinar, the first in a series of sessions offering digital skills training to the local community to advance career development.
TikTok influencers throughout Africa have been vocal about how the company has supported their content and creativity in helping them utilize the app to their best advantage. However, not all African governments are pleased. Last week, 5 Egyptian women were sentenced to 2 years in prison in Egypt for posting TikTok videos that were allegedly deemed “violating the values and principles of the Eyptian family” as well as “disgraceful and insulting.” The Eyptian parliament argues that TikTok promotes immoral content. The public prosecutors in these cases are relying on the 2018 cybercrime law that allows for prison sentences and fines digital content deemed to violate public morals. Even though this incident may not influence African users to withdraw from TikTok, it does illustrate the spectrum of freedom of expression that is balanced on social media.
TikTok and US Drama
Currently, one cannot talk about TikTok without mentioning the evolving ban and sale possibilities in the US. The US has threatened to ban TikTok for an alleged national security risk of data being made available to the China Communist Party. In response, TikTok is seeking to sell the US portion of the company to a US company. Microsoft is interested in buying. In addition, TikTok has employed 1,000 US employees in 2020 alone and ensures that all US data is held in a US server with privacy precautions in place. Unsurprisingly, in the heat of these developments, Facebook launched its TikTok rival feature this week: “Reels” on Instagram. It allows users to create short videos while lip-syncing, similar to TikTok.
Finally, these developments will continue to evolve. TikTok has a lot to balance, but its investment in Africa and African creators will continue to establish its popularity and success in the African market.