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Why TikTok's current conundrum is a wake up call to companies slow to pick up government relations

Why TikTok's current conundrum is a wake up call to companies slow to pick up government relations

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The Internet has a buzz this week with news of Chew Shou Zi, TikTok's CEO, who sat through a grueling five-hour battle with US lawmakers. In the hearing, Chew fought tooth and nail (albeit calmly) that TikTok does not sell data to the Chinese government. He further emphasised the controls put in place to protect younger users from harmful or inappropriate content, and the steps taken to protect the mental health of the young with controls. Since then, social media has been filled with conversations about the types of questions US lawmakers posed to Chew, how Singaporean Chew really is and what the implications of a US TikTok ban could mean for the app in the country as well as globally. 

While Chew might have won over the hearts of netizens, the reality remains that more governments around the world such as Singapore, Canada and Belgium have begun to ban or restricting the app's usage on government-issued devices as they take action to secure their data. So, the question really is if TikTok has lost the war on government relations, and if there is a way to build it back regardless of the US trial outcome.

A quick search on Google would show that TikTok is currently looking for public policy and government relations experts across the world, said Jose Raymond, the director of strategic advisory at PRecious Communications as well as a public administration specialist. This reflects two things - firstly, that there has been a lack of government engagement and focus up until now, and that the platform is only now looking to engage policymakers globally given the scrutiny the app is coming under. And secondly, this should be something other firms take note of going forward particularly if they are breaking boundaries or are changemakers in their field.

Raymond explained:

They should continue engaging with government officials as soon as they can in order to avoid a similar fate to TikTok.

Don't miss: TikTok's congressional hearing: CEO Chew Shou Zi might have lost the battle, but has won the war

While an outright ban is complex and will not happen overnight, there is a possibility that various business restrictions may come into play progressively, said Pamela Tor Das, the managing director at TEAM LEWIS Singapore.  As such, TikTok will need to concurrently look into efforts it is making in communicating what it does and ramping up efforts to protect youths in other key markets around the world to reduce any wider impact a decision in the US might result in.

Tor Das added that some of the key concerns raised in Congress are not unique to TikTok. In fact, as the prevalence of social media channels and new channels continue to emerge, there is greater urgency for the community, parents, corporations, and government to work together to ensure a safer social media environment for all.

Agreeing with her Tarun Deo, the founder and managing director of Progressive Communications noted that generally, trust in social media has diminished greatly over the years.

It's really an issue with social media in general. If you think about it, Western social media apps are completely banned in China. And now, this Asian app is coming under scrutiny in the West. 

He added that this is a larger issue is around governments and their trust in social media apps in general and that it is a fight that TikTok will simply need to learn to navigate.

"When it comes to it, you fight many battles to win a war and I think that's just what TikTok has to do now," he said. The platform has to fight multiple battles for governmental trust and recognise that at the end of the day, people will still be divided.

"You will have those who are confident in continuing to use TikTok and those who are adamantly against it and want it out. They simply need to focus on the markets where they are welcome and keep mounting their defenses," said Deo. 

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