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As Congress Debates TikTok Ban, Here Are 3 Ways Enterprise Leaders Can Prep for New Regs

Ban or no ban, tech regulations are inevitable across the social media landscape and beyond – and enterprise leaders need to be ready. Here's our roundup of the trends and tremors most affecting public and private organizations.


The toughest TikTok challenge of all time – more attention-getting than the blackout, cinnamon, and Cha-Cha Slide challenges put together – may be what the U.S. House of Representatives passed Wednesday and laid at the door of the U.S. Senate: a bill that could ban the Chinese-owned social media app nationwide.

Influencers on the mega-popular short-form video platform immediately cried foul, claiming a ban would be “devastating” and threaten free speech, while late-night talk-show monologues brimmed with faux-doomscrolly jokes: “Can you imagine if TikTok was banned?” asked NBC’s Jimmy Fallon. “Just picture laying down in bed, and then actually going to bed.”

What happens next is unclear. Though hating on social media enjoys rare bipartisan support, the bill, which passed the House 352-65, will have a rockier time in the Senate. Of course, with TikTok, it’s about the perceived national security threat from a company connected to our biggest foreign adversary, but this proposed legislation could very well prompt broader deliberations over data security and privacy protections across all platforms that scoop up our personal information. Even better, it may compel brands to install more safeguards to preserve our trust.

Gain visibility to sensitive data at scale and meet regulatory compliance requirements.

Business owners, boards, and other enterprise heads will want to guide and lead on this front – if they can only figure out how.

“How do we manage the individual in the digital space so we protect some semblance of privacy?” That was the question – rhetorical, yet still unanswered – posed in a radio interview last year by Richard J. Harknett, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the Center for Cyber Strategy and Policy at the University of Cincinnati and co-director of the Ohio Cyber Range Institute, a driver of whole-of-state strategies to promote cybersecurity education, workforce development, and economic growth.

“There are more safety regulations on my refrigerator than on the operating software on my computer,” he quipped.

One year later, it looks like that may – may – finally change.

Why millions turn to TikTok

TikTok boasts 170 million users in the U.S., and they’re not just there for the cat videos and inane stunts.

There are more safety regulations on my refrigerator than on the operating software on my computer.

Richard J. Harknett, Ph.D., professor, University of Cincinnati; and co-director, Ohio Cyber Range Institute

In 2023, 43% of TikTok users reported getting their news from the app, up from 22% in 2020, according to a Pew Research survey. Facebook remains the top choice of social-media platforms for news consumption – nearly one-third of U.S. adults get the news there – though TikTok has shown more growth than any other platform since 2020. As for the accuracy of the news found on social media apps? Well, that’s anybody’s guess.

And that seems much more significant and disturbing than any TikTok challenge. Even the one where you let your buddy pour hot wax on your face. (Seriously.)

Wednesday’s legislation calls for ByteDance, the Chinese owners of TikTok, to divest or sell the app, or it will be banned from app stores and web-hosting services throughout the U.S. The fear is that they will use the app to collect all kinds of data on us – purchasing preferences, biometrics, activity tracking, and more – and hand it over to government officials in Beijing, which Chinese law requires them to do if they are asked.

The problem with discussing what-ifs is that you risk sounding alarmist or just plain nutty.

Harknett, for one, is anything but. As the first scholar-in-residence at U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, he helped develop the theory of “persistent engagement” that now serves as the cornerstone of the White House’s cybersecurity strategy.

[Read also: U.S. intelligence cyber advisor Richard J. Harknett on what many get wrong about persistent engagement – and why it matters to business]

“Modern warfare will always have a cyber component, be it operations against networks and their content or cyber manipulation of the information space,” he said in an exclusive interview with Focal Point. Granted, we’re not officially at war with China, but our war of words and tariffs approaches the real thing: a long-term strategic competition where persuasion is as good as ammo.

In 2020, U.S. Navy Commander Robert “Jake” Bebber warned of China’s heavy investment in “cyber-enabled cognitive manipulation to shape population behavior,” and the use of neuroscience to “generate addictive properties in social media platforms.”

TikTok stands out in its power to manipulate: While videos from any app can go viral, TikTok’s infection ability is unique, given the practice of “heating,” where TikTok staff can supercharge distribution of hand-picked videos. This has huge implications for fair competition and free trade. Just imagine how they can siphon profits by amplifying your competitors’ posts or cooling down your own viral campaigns.

Should your business ban TikTok?

The U.S. federal government and more than 25 state governments already ban TikTok on government-owned devices, and similar bans exist for officials in the U.K., Canada, Australia, and elsewhere.

When I was in high school, you’d watch Seinfeld or Friends on Thursday nights, and then Friday that’s all you talked about at school.

Chris Vaughan, vice president of technical account management, Tanium

A few brands (Wells Fargo, Delta, and Southwest Airlines) have also banned the app on company devices, but most business leaders are loath to wade into this quagmire. The trend at many workplaces is to try to improve the digital employee experience (DEX) by finding digital solutions employees enjoy, rather than taking preferred online options away.

Tackling social media activity of employees is a difficult fight, much as it is with kids, says Chris Vaughan, vice president of technical account management at Tanium, a leading cybersecurity solutions provider (and owner of this magazine).

“When I was in high school, you’d watch Seinfeld or Friends on Thursday nights, and then Friday that’s all you talked about at school.” Adults, too. TV shows like HBO’s The Sopranos or F/X’s Breaking Bad fueled workplace conversations at the watercooler. “If you missed an episode or didn’t have the channel, then you were isolated, you couldn’t partake in the conversation,” says Vaughan.

Today, that FOMO factor – the fear of missing out – is endemic. So what’s an employer to do?

Over the past year, Focal Point has examined the social media landscape, exploring the trends and tremors that are having the most impact on public and private enterprise. TikTok ban or no TikTok ban, what follows are three steps enterprise leaders can take now to more effectively prepare for the changes to come.

1. Get smart about online narratives

Red string held down by push pins crisscrosses a royal blue speech bubble.In a two-part series in December, we examined the growing influence of misinformation (mistaken statements), disinformation (outright lies), and malinformation (truths deliberately twisted or taken out of context for malicious purposes),

“Malinformation is already rampant,” warns Harknett. From mislabeled videos to dangerous deepfakes, such fictitious content is meant to influence our natural human emotions, which “can impact both an organization’s workforce, creating division, and its reputation, depending on its sector of the economy,” he adds. “Such operations are also meant to inflame tensions at the individual level and potentially provoke individuals to engage in violence and/or revenge.”

Recent cuts to trust and safety teams at major social platforms put the onus on individual organizations to take the lead in policing their own reputations online. That means coordinating efforts between cybersecurity teams, legal counsel, and media relations personnel to keep close watch over attacks on a brand. Social media listening, detection technology, and some surprisingly old-school cybersecurity tactics (like incident response plans) can help.

[Read on: Misinformation / disinformation, pt. 1 – the coming crisis and enterprises most at risk]

2. Prepare for regulation

A brown silhouetted gavel leans on a block against a backdrop of swirling blue lines.While a nationwide TikTok ban is unlikely – some observers suspect this congressional saber-rattling is designed to induce the app’s sale rather than to flat-out ban it – restrictions are coming, and they will affect procedures on social media platforms and at any firms that collect and wield consumers’ personal data.

In their ongoing fight with Big Tech, lawmakers have been hard at work crafting bipartisan bills to rein in an industry that has enjoyed a regulation-free environment since its inception. Such efforts were further fueled last year with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s 2023 advisory on social media’s harmful effects on kids. “We are in the middle of a national youth mental health crisis,” Murthy noted, “and I am concerned that social media is an important driver of that crisis – one that we must urgently address.”

[Read on: Congress is pondering possible regulations but the surgeon general is Big Tech’s biggest threat]

3. Trust in ‘digital trust’

Gaining digital trust is now mission-critical at tech and non-tech companies alike. The problem: Trust requires ethical awareness, and most enterprises, both public and private, lack an ethical framework related to technology, according to Deloitte’s second annual State of Ethics and Trust in Technology report, released last fall.

The survey of 1,700-plus business and tech professionals examines how ethical standards are applied to emerging technologies, like autonomous vehicles, quantum computing, robotics, and generative AI (GenAI). For example, of those surveyed, 65% say their organization is already using GenAI and 74% are testing it, yet more than half (56%) don’t know or are unsure if their firms have any ethical guidelines in place to govern its use.

Last spring, Focal Point shined a light on the need for ethical frameworks and those enterprises that were getting it right. Just as consumers covet brands and brand experiences that seem authentic, so too will they keep coming back to those firms that demonstrate a commitment to ethics.

[Read on: What the tech sector can learn from TikTok – trust is everything]

A glimpse of a silver lining

The prospect of a TikTok ban, however unlikely, is perhaps most troubling because of the app’s user demographics. It’s wildly popular with the coveted 18-to-29 demo, much more so than X/Twitter or Facebook. And many organizations have used TikTok to create significant brand awareness.

Look, there are other platforms out there, and whenever there’s a void, somebody steps into that void.


So what happens if a ban really does go into effect?

“Look, there are other platforms out there, and whenever there’s a void, somebody steps into that void,” says Vaughan. “It could be Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, or some new platform we’ve never heard of. If TikTok goes away, I’d just double down on the existing platforms. There are plenty of ways to share messages on social media and a lot of people use things like Snap[chat], TikTok, or Instagram interchangeably. So I don’t think it’s a big issue for businesses.”

Could having one less platform be a net gain?

“It might actually make life a little bit easier,” he says.

Joseph V. Amodio

Joseph V. Amodio is a veteran journalist, television writer, and the Editor-in-Chief of Focal Point. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Men's Health, Newsday, Los Angeles Times,, and, and has been syndicated in publications around the world. His docudramas have aired on Netflix, Discovery, A&E, and other outlets. He also produces Tanium’s new Let’s Converge podcast—listen here.

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