Microsoft so far has declined to comment on its interest in TikTok beyond a blog post over the weekend assuring users that information collected from TikTok would be kept in the United States, and data housed elsewhere would be deleted.
The company would need to do much more than that to protect users. Though Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have deployed artificial intelligence software and hired thousands of content moderators to take down vile or misleading posts, dangerous content inevitably slips through. Recently, a video spreading bogus claims about the value of using hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 racked up millions of views on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and was shared by members of the Trump family before being taken down.
Microsoft has little experience in the tricky and subjective art of corralling a social media site. It bought LinkedIn for about $26 billion in 2016, but that’s a reliably sober platform. If the company is successful in snapping up TikTok’s U.S. operations, and its roughly 100 million American users, Microsoft should immediately beef up TikTok’s policies with a clear, aggressive code of conduct of its own — and then actually enforce that policy.
If YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are any indication, Microsoft would have to defend itself against significant criticism from both sides of the political aisle about unevenly enforced policies. Does the company have the wherewithal to ramp up content removal or blocking of users when it might anger a key political or business ally — or a TikTok star?
TikTok users already have demonstrated their might, including claims to registering en masse for tickets to President Trump’s Tulsa, Okla., rally that they never redeemed.
There are, of course, serious matters of international diplomacy to consider in this deal. There’s also the concern that, despite vehement denials by TikTok’s parent, ByteDance, the Chinese government may now or in the future collect and analyze the reams of data that the app culls from its roughly 800 million users. In the United States, senators, Mr. Trump’s cabinet and, apparently, Amazon all have developed a mistrust of the service.
“While TikTok isn’t immune to the challenges that all platforms face, the fact that our users come to express their creative sides immediately makes TikTok a much more uplifting environment than one might experience on other platforms,” a company spokeswoman, Jamie Favazza, said in a statement. Ms. Favazza noted that TikTok forbids posting misleading information about elections and removes content that violates its policies, and she reiterated that ByteDance doesn’t share data with the Chinese government.