The Trump administration’s decision to force the sale of TikTok to a U.S. buyer is, to many, the latest sign the global internet is splintering into national and regional blocs.
This has been a concern for several years now, as authoritarian countries such as Russia, China and Iran erect walls around their cyberspace, and democracies like the U.S., India and the European Union cite national security when blocking specific foreign companies like ByteDance’s TikTok and Tencent’s WeChat.
The reality, however, is a lot more complicated – at least when it comes to social media companies.
I study global media design and the localization of technology. My research suggests that while social media users are indeed splintering regionally and nationally, the companies themselves are becoming more globally intertwined than ever. This means countries that try to restrict apps with bans and the like will end up hurting companies based within their borders as well.
More users, more money
Social media companies have little choice but to behave globally – something clear from their massive number of users.
Facebook, for example, had 2.7 billion monthly active users at the end of June – representing more than a third of the world population – and only about 10% of them are in the U.S. WhatsApp had 2 billion, while WeChat and Instagram are at about 1.2 billion and 1 billion, respectively.
Most social media apps are quickly translated and released in dozens