Banned on Twitter and on Facebook, , indefinitely booted from Snapchat, and with r/DonaldTrump, his collection of cheerleaders on Reddit, banished from that platform, Donald Trump is now an island on social media. Yet there’s one fast-growing social network that he could, in theory, join but hasn’t yet: TikTok.
Thursday afternoon, I asked TikTok, which the outgoing U.S. president spent the second half of 2020 trying to ban, whether it would join other social networks in refusing Trump access to its app, should he want to join. More than 24 hours later, its media representatives still haven’t replied.
In reality, the likelihood of Trump joining TikTok — which is fighting the U.S. government in court to retain access to U.S. users — is small. Using the video platform would undermine his policy actions against the company and his months of claims that it is a Chinese deep-state conspiracy to spy on Americans. It’s worth noting that Joe Biden also hasn’t yet joined TikTok.
Presumably, doing so — beyond any substantive concerns — would have given the Trump campaign an easy shot, given the president’s claims that the app is a national security threat.
And yet Trump is left with few other choices if he wants to reach his base of supporters. In theory, as I reported back in August, TikTok could be a natural home for Trump: An early analysis of political content on the app from October 2019 through February 2020 showed his supporters were far more active on TikTok than supporters of the Democratic Party. Sixty percent more videos were posted by right-leaning accounts than by left-leaning ones. That may have changed since: Moves during the presidential campaign, including a plot partly hatched on TikTok to buy up thousands of seats to a campaign rally before no-showing, indicated significant numbers on the app dislike Trump.
TikTok’s silence, when other social platforms have been comparatively keen to shout quickly and loudly that Trump is not welcome after he incited a riotous crowd to storm the Capitol, makes business sense. Announcing any kind of ban would risk the ire of a notoriously tetchy president at a time when the company is in litigation with the federal government. Announcing he was welcome would mean stepping out of line with the overwhelming majority of social media, which, by a miraculous coincidence, have all recognized that a man who has spent the past five years spewing toxic hate speech is a threat, right as he loses the ability to regulate them.
Yet it’s still arguably important to know where the company stands on the question that is confronting its peers. TikTok has nearly 100 million users in the United States, who spend huge amounts of time on the app. And the number is growing: It was just 11 million in January 2018 and 26 million a year later.
If Donald Trump does try to launch a 2024 presidential campaign, TikTok will likely still be a social-media powerhouse by then — and the company may eventually be forced to come up with an answer.