Guest Columns Platforms
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Should we regulate social media platforms based on where they call home?

The current debate over TikTok has surfaced a number of arguments on both sides. However, if the UK is to strengthen regulation, it should not be to the detriment of user experience. And it should be universal. Zarnaz Arlia, Chief Marketing Officer at Emplifi, explains more…

Over the last decade, social media platforms have faced increased scrutiny, with concrete concerns over privacy, security, fake news, and social engineering leading to calls for greater control and regulation. Many will remember the concerns over misinformation via WhatsApp and Twitter during the pandemic, and now the debate is spreading over security and privacy concerns connected to TikTok.

The topic of social platform regulation has long been discussed, with governments on both sides of the Atlantic taking steps to force platforms to remove harmful content and digital pollution, and prevent the spread of misinformation while promoting stronger security practices. That conversation is a positive one for both users and marketers alike and many of the social platforms have taken significant steps to ‘clean up’ their house.

However, while much scrutiny has been leveled at platforms like Facebook and Twitter – both owned by US-based companies – the emergence of non-US social leaders complicates these debates further. TikTok holds a different status, being wholly owned by the Chinese company, ByteDance. Nevertheless, if legislation is created to address data privacy and security threats posed to businesses and consumers by social media platforms, it should apply to all apps, regardless of country ownership.

Whether a platform originates in the US, China, or somewhere in-between, security, safety, and privacy are imperative for users – and for the brands that increasingly rely on them to reach their audience. No one – government, consumers, or brands – benefits from social media platforms that are not trusted. Recent research finds British users the most distrustful of social media sites, especially in terms of security, but many are unwilling to change their social media habits.

If the UK is to strengthen regulation it should not be to the detriment of user experience. And it should be universal. Banning platforms or penalising them on an individual basis does not solve the core problems and will be damaging for brands and users alike. Instead, regulation and collaboration across the board (regardless of what country the platform was founded in) should be the approach.

For example, the UK government could strengthen existing data protection laws and introduce new regulations specifically targeting social media platforms to include rules around data collection, storage, and sharing, as well as penalties for non-compliance. This could go as far as requiring social media platforms to be independently audited under a regulator. As such, differentials in the origin of a platform would be levelled but would require an international approach where governments work more closely with other countries to develop a coordinated approach to regulating platforms. This could involve sharing best practices, exchanging information on security threats, and collaborating on investigations.

We can’t forget users

An important perspective to consider in this conversation is the users. With nearly 24M monthly UK users, TikTok clearly has a strong appeal for consumers and therefore brands, who are running as fast as they can to tap into the buzz. 77% of TikTok users say TikTok is a place where people can express themselves openly – and it’s this authenticity that gives the platform its unique value compared to other competitors.

To put TikTok’s success into perspective, at just six years old, it is the youngest of the major channels B2C companies use for marketing and has taken the world by storm, leading ahead of all platforms except for Facebook in terms of median profile followers. For brands, the platform offers a way to show a side of themselves that isn’t possible through more traditional channels, engaging communities and answering demand from consumers for short-form video content. The reason it is so successful is in some ways simple: ease of use and well-targeted, immersive content.

TikTok is raising the bar for users, but at the same time, its success raises issues that the industry as a whole must address – creating an ever safer, more inclusive, more valuable and more secure social media experience. It seems that greater regulation may be inevitable, and if that is the case then it needs to be focused on bolstering trust and transparency across the board, no matter where a platform calls home.

Zarnaz Arlia
Chief Marketing Officer, Emplifi

Emplifi provides brands with the insights needed to actively empathise with customers and create unforgettable experiences via social, online and in-store, whilst still operating efficiently. Its unified CX platform empowers brands to meet modern customer expectations across marketing, commerce, and aftercare touchpoints and is used by over 8,400 brands including M&S, HP, and Mercedes-Benz.