The government in Washington is threatening Tiktok with a possible ban in the US if the video platform is not split off from its Chinese parent Bytedance. The U.S. government has asked the Chinese owners of Tiktok to sell their shares in the short video app or expect a possible ban in the U.S., the company just said. Tiktok is currently in contact with the American government about a control model designed to ensure the data security of American users and national security. On March 23, Tiktok boss Shou Zi Chew will explain himself to the US Congress.

But it is not only in Washington that the app is increasingly viewed critically. Now first the British, then the New Zealand government announced to ban the service on government mobile phones. Should the negotiations fail again in America, the parent company could actually consider a sale or the IPO of the American division, according to a media report. How did it come to this? What makes Tiktok so successful? And why are Western governments worried about the power of this app? Here are answers to the most important questions?

What is Tiktok?

Tiktok is an internet platform for short videos. Users can record videos, upload them to the platform and share them with users all over the world in no time. The focus is on entertainment and information. The maximum length of clips is ten minutes, but the most popular videos last less than a minute. Most of them are quickly cut, provided with funny or informative texts and underlaid with trendy music. On average, the more than 1 billion users watch around 90 minutes of short videos on the platform every day. According to market research firm Emarketer, the platform's revenue is likely to have been $12 billion last year.

What makes Tiktok so popular?

That Tiktok became so popular in such a short time is because the app is neither as text-heavy as Facebook, nor as curated as Instagram. Rather, users are thrown into an endless stream of short videos that repeat until you swipe on. Even if you don't follow a profile, you'll always be entertained: dance videos, make-up tips, recipes and comedy clips from young people can be found alongside those of celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift or Ryan Reynolds. According to a study by Google, around 40 percent of Gen Z now use the app as a search engine for lifestyle tips. Who is a so-called "creator" and who is a "consumer" is no longer strictly distinguished (as in YouTube, for example).

In addition, a huge collection of licensed music allows video clips to be set to music without fear of copyright infringement. Tiktok also initiated an elaborate advertising campaign on the meta-apps Instagram and Facebook to poach users. However, the most powerful tool of the app to bind users to itself is the "For You Page", which is curated by the algorithm: Things are always played out that are unexpected and therefore surprising. Since it's less about follower numbers and more about interactions, new creators can quickly become popular.

In addition, crises and (media) events favored the popularity of Tiktok: The corona pandemic, the forest fires, the fire of Notre-Dame, the internment of Muslims in China, the Black Lives Matter protests – everything was accompanied on Tiktok. Most recently, it was the Ukraine war that drove this change in use: Tiktok is no longer just there to inform, but is used more and more to politicize itself.