TikTok Ban Signaling a Divide in Communications Landscape Ahead of 2024 Election

By Akeem Anderson  

After several anxiety-laden Congressional hearings and years of handwringing among policymakers over whether to ban TikTok, the House has passed bipartisan legislation that would force its owner, ByteDance,  to sell the app or essentially be banned in the United States. 

While the Senate is next up to offer a deciding vote, President Biden has said that he would sign the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act if it reached his desk, which would leave TikTok’s more than 102 million active US users without access to the app. 

Since the vote was announced, H/Advisors Abernathy assessed more than 1 million mentions related to the TikTok ban across social media, search, and traditional news to see how conversation might impact the public affairs landscape. Our research revealed: 

A TikTok Ban Could Impact the 2024 Presidential Election 

While the idea to ban TikTok originated in the halls of Congress, the implications will inevitably have an impact on the 2024 Presidential election.  

On social and traditional media, President Joe Biden (#1) and former President Donald Trump (#2) are among the most mentioned names in conversations related to the TikTok ban, ahead of names like U.S Rep Jeff Jackson (D) who initially supported the bill but later apologized to his 2.5 million TikTok followers for doing so. Another popular name – Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher (R) who, as leader of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, helped author the bill, ranked below the presidential nominees in overall mentions.  

Even with the bill’s future in the Senate uncertain, both Presidential nominees are seeing a spike in conversations related to a controversial legislation, national security, foreign relations and data privacy, each gelling into one messy topic for the candidates to wade through.  

Public Opinion Is Centering Adjacent Issues 

While the bill takes aim at TikTok and its ties to the Chinese Communist Party’s use of data, public conversations online have steered toward other loosely connected topics.  

On social media, critics of the bill have elevated other issues like housing costs, gun laws, and minimum wage as more worthy of bipartisan support. Those themes ranked alongside the bill itself as trending topics, as eight of the top 20 most reshared posts on social media featured commentary on geopolitical conflicts and accusations that the proposed ban was intended to blunt organizing among citizens. 

The subject of free speech has also come into focus, led by lawmakers like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green who expressed on X her concern for censorship and First Amendment rights; that comment was among the top 5 most shared posts on the topic on X. 

The prevalence of other topics trending alongside the potential TikTok ban points to a broader anxiety not simply derived from limiting data access on an app. In all, nearly half of all mentions on the potential ban (49%) have been negative, anchored by criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.  

Big Tech Will Face Major Reputational Hurdles 

The tech industry remains the most primed for reputational battle on the topic, as the analysis showed that more than 20% of people posting about the topic included companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, Tesla and Meta in their mentions, with most openly comparing data use among those tech companies to that of TikTok. Not surprisingly, more than half of all mentions including tech companies were negative (53%).  

In one of his most significant comments to date on the ban, former President Trump noted “The thing I don’t like is that without TikTok, you can make Facebook bigger, and I consider Facebook to be an enemy of the people,” a statement that brought tech giant Meta front-and-center in public conversation.  

If these comments made are any indication of future trends, major tech companies would be wise to plan for further legislative scrutiny regarding the use of user data.  

So, What’s Next for TikTok? 

It is now in the Senate’s hands to decide if one of the world’s most popular apps will exit US borders. Early data analysis proves that the legislation, while seemingly focused on national security concerns regarding foreign-owned data, is sparking other public discourse that might change policy on data use moving forward.  

Anticipation for the next chapter in the TikTok ban saga continue, as notably the top trending organic online searches related to the subject are: 

  • “When Will TikTok Ban Take Effect?” (+1,700% month-over-month increase in online searches) 
  • “Did They Ban TikTok in The United States?” (+1,300% month-over-month increase in online searches)  
  • “Did the TikTok Ban Go Through the Senate? (+850% month-over-month increase in online searches) 

Should the ban of TikTok take hold, it is likely that other uses of consumer data could come under scrutiny, spurred by advocates calling for comprehensive data privacy and protection laws.   

As the Senate contemplates the app’s fate, now is the perfect time for foreign and domestic companies who rely heavily on user-data to ready themselves with a public affairs and corporate reputation strategy that underscores an adherence to newly defined legislation while also earning the trust of a skeptical public.