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TikTok Files New Petition in U.S. Court of Appeals

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TikTok, the controversial video-sharing app owned by Chinese tech conglomerate ByteDance, is expected to be officially banned in the U.S. as of today, per an executive order issued by President Donald Trump in August. The White House views the platform as a threat to national security, charging it could share sensitive information on U.S. consumers with Chinese authorities — an allegation TikTok fiercely contests, including through a lawsuit against the government.

But while the deadline for TikTok to secure a sale that could preserve its business in a key market is finally here, one would be hard-pressed to tell the platform is facing an existential crisis on the surface. Marketing Dive easily downloaded and accessed TikTok from the Apple App Store Thursday morning, and marketers, too, appear to be holding fast with their efforts on the app.

“TikTok has continued to grow and thrive through multiple past ‘deadlines,’ and we believe we’ll see that again now,” Evan Horowitz, chief executive at Movers+Shakers, an agency that develops TikTok campaigns for brands like e.l.f. Cosmetics and NYX, said over email. “All of our clients are moving full speed ahead with their TikTok campaigns and TikTok channels.”

Even TikTok seems perplexed by the state of affairs, The Verge reported. ByteDance and TikTok on Wednesday filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals claiming they’ve stopped receiving communication in recent weeks from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the agency group reviewing the app’s business, after asking for a 30-day extension to iron out an agreement. The companies are hoping the appeals court grants them some additional lead time to work out a deal, as one tentatively cleared by Trump involving Oracle and Walmart taking on ownership of TikTok remains in flux pending the stamp of approval from Chinese officials, per Quartz. Additionally, the government still has until midnight tonight to issue an extension, Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, told Bloomberg.

Which is to say that marketers hoping Nov. 12 would bring some finality to the TikTok saga are likely to be disappointed, if they’re still paying careful attention to the months-long imbroglio at all.

“My suspicion is that most marketers will care more about brand safety from the perspective of inappropriate and offensive content than anything relating to accusations around national security,” Alex Bronwsell, media editor at the researcher WARC, said over email. “As long as TikTok offers mass scale and helps them to engage otherwise hard to reach consumers, advertisers will likely be content to ride the waves of any political controversy — until such a time, of course, that consumer sentiment sours in a meaningful or lasting way.”

No signs of slowing down

When President Trump first issued an executive order pressing ByteDance to divest TikTok’s U.S. business over the summer, it set off a mad scramble speculating over the fate of one of the most exciting and innovative apps to hit the market in years.

TikTok has experienced explosive growth and become a favorite of young consumers who are elusive on traditional media channels, an enviable position that’s been strengthened as social media usage continues to spike during the pandemic. Marketers have subsequently flocked to the platform in droves, while TikTok has built out a stronger advertising business, including by introducing its first global marketing platform over the summer. The app in recent weeks has signed extensive deals with Sony Music and the e-commerce platform Shopify.

Upward momentum for TikTok has been steady and strong enough that aggression from the White House has almost become a secondary consideration, as suggested by Brownsell. The Trump administration has also experienced some key setbacks.

An order that intended to prevent new downloads or software updates to TikTok starting Sept. 20 was blocked by Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court in Washington, ensuring the app could continue to acquire users and maintain its functionality. Then, late last month, a federal judge in Pennsylvania issued a separate injunction against restrictions against the app that were set to go into effect today, while not preventing the entire ban order from taking hold.

“There’s been some level of uncertainty about TikTok’s future for over a year now, and the demand for TikTok among marketers has grown exponentially,” Horowitz said, noting that his agency has recently signed blue-chip companies like Amazon and Disney to make their TikTok debuts.

The executive added that Movers+Shakers has “a big pipeline of launches” planned for the first quarter of next year as well.

‘Arbitrary and capricious’

In the petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals, TikTok and ByteDance described the Trump administration’s actions as “arbitrary and capricious” and pleaded with the court to review the situation and stop the forced divestiture of the app’s operations, per The Wall Street Journal.

If the White House remains as inattentive to the issue as the companies allege, and if the administration of projected president Biden is friendlier to Chinese businesses, it’s possible that TikTok will be able to land on sturdier footing in the months ahead, helping to enshrine its dominant status in the video app space. However, marketers should still be planning for any scenario, including an outright shutdown.

“Most U.S. marketers, in tandem with their agencies, will have put in place contingency plans in the event of a ban — while seeming unlikely, it won’t come as a total shock,” Brownsell said.

“We would expect most brands to redirect investment towards other platforms that can deliver youthful audiences, including Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube,” Brownsell added. “A temporary ban would allow advertisers to measure the contribution of TikTok to its marketing effectiveness, which is no bad thing. A longer ban, however, would result in further fragmentation of Gen Z audiences, making life harder for marketers chasing those audiences.”

Socialmediatoday.com

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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

Over the past year, Google has repeatedly noted that a China-based group has been looking to use YouTube, in particular, to influence western audiences, by building various channels in the app, then seeding them with pro-China content.

There’s limited info available on the full origins or intentions of the group, but today, Google has published a new overview of its ongoing efforts to combat the initiative, called DRAGONBRIDGE.

As explained by Google:

In 2022, Google disrupted over 50,000 instances of DRAGONBRIDGE activity across YouTube, Blogger, and AdSense, reflecting our continued focus on this actor and success in scaling our detection efforts across Google products. We have terminated over 100,000 DRAGONBRIDGE accounts in the IO network’s lifetime.

As you can see in this chart, DRAGONBRIDGE is by far the most prolific source of coordinated information operations that Google has detected over the past year, while Google also notes that it’s been able to disrupt most of the project’s attempted influence, by snuffing out its content before it gets seen.

Dragonbridge

Worth noting the scale too – as Google notes, DRAGONBRIDGE has created more than 100,000 accounts, which includes tens of thousands of YouTube channels. Not individual videos, entire channels in the app, which is a huge amount of work, and content, that this group is producing.

That can’t be cheap, or easy to keep running. So they must be doing it for a reason.

The broader implication, which has been noted by various other publications and analysts, is that DRAGONBRIDGE is potentially being supported by the Chinese Government, as part of a broader effort to influence foreign policy approaches via social media apps. 

Which, at this kind of scale, is a concern, while DRAGONBRIDGE has also targeted Facebook and Twitter as well, at different times, and it could be that their efforts on those platforms are also reaching similar activity levels, and may not have been detected as yet.

Which then also relates to TikTok, a Chinese-owned app that now has massive influence over younger audiences in western nations. If programs like this are already in effect, it stands to reason that TikTok is also likely a key candidate for boosting the same, which remains a key concern among regulators and officials in many nations.

The US Government is reportedly weighing a full TikTok ban, and if that happens, you can bet that many other nations will follow suit. Many government organizations are also banning TikTok on official devices, based on advice from security experts, and with programs like DRAGONBRIDGE also running, it does seem like Chinese-based groups are actively operating influence and manipulation programs in foreign nations.

Which seems like a significant issue, and while Google is seemingly catching most of these channels before they have an impact, it also seems likely that this is only one element of a larger push.

Hopefully, through collective action, the impact of such can be limited – but for TikTok, which still reports to Chinese ownership, it’s another element that could raise further questions and scrutiny.

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The Drum | Trump’s Instagram & Facebook Reinstatement Won’t Cause Marketers To Riot Yet, Experts Say

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The Drum | Trump's Instagram & Facebook Reinstatement Won’t Cause Marketers To Riot Yet, Experts Say

While the reinstatement of Donald Trump’s Twitter account in November had some advertisers packing up in protest, many will strike a different tune with Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram, experts predict.

Meta Wednesday announced that it’s lifting the ban on a handful of Facebook and Instagram accounts, including that of former US president Donald Trump – who was suspended nearly two years ago following the January 6, 2021 riots at the Capitol.

In a blog post yesterday, Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, explained the reasons for the company’s decision, saying that it “evaluated the current environment” as it pertains to the socio-political landscape and security concerns and determined that “risk has sufficiently receded.” As a result, the company will welcome Trump back onto Facebook and Instagram.

The former president will be expected to comply with Meta’s user policies, but, considering his past violations, will face “heightened penalties for repeat offenses,” Clegg explained.

While it’s unclear whether Trump will become an active user on either platform following the decision, media and marketing experts are already sounding alarm bells at his potential return.

In particular, experts are cautious considering recent developments at Twitter. Elon Musk’s turbulent takeover – which has included mass layoffs, dramatic platform changes and the decision to reinstate the accounts of controversial figures like Trump and Kanye West (whose account has since been re-suspended) – has led to an exodus of advertisers. Could Meta’s decision to reintroduce Trump invite a similar fate?

‘Fear, frustration and protest’ could catalyze drawback

Concerns regarding brand safety and suitability on Facebook and Instagram are piquing among marketers. Trump’s presence on social media has long proven to exacerbate the spread of misinformation online. The risks of a potential recession, paired with new political tensions spurred by the 2022 midterms and the anticipation of the 2024 presidential election, may only up the ante.

“Misinformation on Meta’s platforms was an issue prior to Trump’s ban, during the ban and will likely continue to be an issue, even with the new [policies that] Meta has put in place,” says Laura Ries, group director of media and connections at IPG-owned ad agency R/GA. In light of this fact, Ries says, “Advertisers will need to continue to consider the type of content they’ll show up next to when evaluating whether or not to advertise on the platforms, especially as we march toward the 2024 election.”

She predicts that Meta may see some advertisers leave Facebook and Instagram “out of fear, frustration or protest.”

Others agree. “I suspect advertisers will not be pleased with this move and might make reductions in spend as they have done with Twitter,” says Tim Lim, a political strategist, PR consultant and partner at creative agency The Hooligans.

Although some advertisers are sure to pull back or cut their investments, the number will likely be low – largely because the scale and reach promised by both Facebook and Instagram will make it hard for most advertisers to quit. Smaller brands and startups in particular often rely heavily on Meta’s advertising business to spur growth, says Ries.

A ripple, not a wave

Most industry leaders believe Trump’s reinstatement won’t cause anything more than a ripple in the advertising industry. “Marketers who advertise on Facebook and Instagram care about their own problems, which generally [entail] selling more products and services,” says Joe Pulizzi, an entrepreneur, podcaster and author of various marketing books. “If Meta helps them do that, they don’t care one bit about brand safety – unless this blows up into a big political issue again. It might not, so marketers won’t do a thing.”

The sentiment is underscored by Dr Karen Freberg, a professor of strategic communications at University of Louisville, who says: “Facebook and Instagram are key fundamental platforms for advertisers. Marketers may … be aware of the news, but I am not sure if it will make a drastic change for the industry.” She points out that Twitter’s decision to lift the ban on Trump’s account in November caused such a big stir among marketers advertisers that Meta’s decision to do the same may come as less of a shock.

Trump’s return may even benefit Meta’s ads business by giving the company new opportunities to serve ads to Trump devotees, says Pulizzi. Ultimately, he says, Meta “needs personalities like Trump,” who, whether through love or hate, inspire higher engagement. “With Facebook plateauing and Instagram now chasing – and copying – TikTok at every turn, Trump’s follower base is important to Meta, which is hard to believe, but I think it’s true.”

But while some users may be energized by the former president’s return to Meta platforms, others may be outraged – even to the point of quitting Facebook and Instagram, points out Ries. In this case, she says, “advertisers will need to follow them to TikTok, Snap or other platforms where they’re spending their newfound time.”

R/GA, for its part, which services major brands including Google, Samsung, Verizon and Slack, will work on “a client by client basis” to address concerns about Facebook, Instagram or any other platform, says Ries. “R/GA recommended pausing activity on Facebook and Instagram after the insurrection and won’t hesitate to do so again if another incident occurs.”

For more, sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here.

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Snap Launches New Ad Campaign to Showcase its AR Offerings

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Snap Launches New Ad Campaign to Showcase its AR Offerings

Snapchat has launched a new promotional campaign which leans into the uniqueness of its viral AR trends, with a showcase of bizarre effects, as a means to present people with a different perspective on the real world.

Pretty trippy, huh?

As explained by Snap:

At Snap, we celebrate the joy, irreverence, and spontaneity of communicating with your real friends in fun, unexpected ways. Over the years, we’ve pushed the boundaries of how people see and experience the world through augmented reality. AR makes conversations and experiences better, and unlocks new ways to connect with others, learn about the world, shop, and more. [Our new campaign] shows you what it’s like to see the world the way Snapchatters do.”

It’s pretty weird, but will that get more people using Snap?

Certainly, the campaign will grab attention, and with 72% of active Snapchat users already engaging with AR elements in the app every day, there’s clearly a lot of interest in these types of weirdo activations that provide a new way of seeing the familiar.

Maybe that’ll prove to be a good lure to get people into the app, and broaden its user base. I mean, at the least, it’ll spark intrigue, which will likely get at least a few more people downloading the app to see what they can do.

AR is a key focus for Snap, and despite operating at a much smaller scale than Meta and Apple, which are both also investing big in AR projects, Snap has continued to punch above its wait in this area, by continually coming out with AR content that grabs attention, and engages audiences.

Meta is still struggling to maintain relevance with younger audiences, a key element that could de-rail its metaverse vision, while Apple has actually leaned on Snap to help showcase its advanced AR tools over time.

If nothing else, Snapchat has its finger on the pulse, which is why virtually every AR trend – from anime filters to baby faces, from crying faces to vomiting rainbows – all of these have originated from Snapchat, and that’s remained consistent over time, even with newer platforms like TikTok entering the same realm.

Snap is very in-tune with its user base, which is also why its Snapchat+ subscription offering is already doing better than Twitter Blue, even with the addition of tweet editing verification ticks (Snapchat+ has over 1.5 million paying subscribers, versus an estimated 325k for Twitter Blue).

That community sense has helped Snap maintain growth and relevance. But it also needs to expand – and maybe, through a bizarre showcase like this, that could help to make more people aware of the things that they can do in the app.

And this is how Snapchat Lenses tend to be shared. Somebody uses it, then they just have to show their friends.

In this respect, it seems like a good initiative, which could help Snap spark more interest and engagement.

It also serves as a demo of scanning in the Snap camera – if you want to try out any of the Lenses featured in the ad, you can scan the screen in the Snap camera, which will then open up whichever Lens is featured at that moment.

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