The public reaction to coverage of the WeChat and TikTok ban

September 18, 2020

Written by Benedict Nicholson

The US today announced that it would ban the TikTok and WeChat apps from US app stores after deeming them a potential security risk. 

After initial speculation about a ban triggered by Mike Pompeo’s comments in early July, Trump announced he would ban the app using an executive action if it was not sold to a US company by a certain date. 

Now, the date is approaching, and we wanted to look at how the public has reacted to the news of the ban at various points, as well as which outlets were driving the most engagement to their coverage of it. 

Top coverage of the TikTok ban

We will begin by looking back at the coverage of the TikTok ban up until Thursday, September 17th in US outlets. The graph below shows the full year, though obviously most of the coverage did not begin until July. There was some minor interest in India’s decision to ban some Chinese apps in late June, but nothing of note before that.

Chart showing the most engaged websites writing about the TikTok ban

The most engagement came from the NBC umbrella, which so far has driven more than 2 million engagements to the news across NBC News, MSNBC, and CNBC – almost as much as the rest of the top ten combined. 

Next in the list came Fox News and The Daily Wire, which had 460k and 390k engagements respectively. CNN and NPR rounded out the top five, and were the only other outlets to drive more than 200k engagements to articles about the potential ban. 

The majority of NBC’s engagement came from one article from CNBC that saw more than 1.5 million engagements and focused on Trump’s initial comments that he was planning to ban the app unless it fulfilled certain obligations. 

Chart showing the most engaged articles about the TikTok ban in 2020

Fox News and The Daily Wire had the second and third most engaged articles, though the spread of the top ten was much tighter than it was in the top publisher rankings. 

These rankings might all change today, however, as news emerged that TikTok and WeChat will not appear in US app stores from Sunday. Using our real-time platform NewsWhip Spike, we took a snapshot of the articles published on the matter in the last six hours showing the engagement levels at the time of publication versus the levels of engagement we predict they will get over the next few hours.

Chart showing the predicted engagement to articles about the TikTok ban written on 09/18

As the chart shows, some of these articles are already set to garner enough engagement to appear in the list of most engaged stories for the year about the TikTok ban, per our predictions. These notably come from the likes of CNN and the New York Times, showing that the coverage today is making a bigger splash across social media than previous coverage had, and the public is paying attention to it.

Top articles about TikTok in 2020

Despite the huge business impact of the TikTok ban, it has only made up a relatively small level of the total engagement to coverage about the app in 2020, with 8 million of the total 56 million total engagements focused on the ban itself. Below are the most engaged articles that have mentioned TikTok in 2020. 

Chart showing the top articles about TikTok in 2020, ranked by engagement

By some distance, the most engaged piece was Taylor Lorenz’s after TikTok users organized to attempt to undermine Trump’s rally in Tulsa. The piece in The New York Times received more than two million engagements.

The only mention of the ban to make the top ten was the CNBC article discussed before, though there were warnings about privacy and security concerns that made the top ten. The rest of the top articles were about TikTok trends going viral.

Top coverage on the WeChat ban 

Of course, it is not only TikTok that has been threatened with being banned, as WeChat has been named in many of the discussions too. 

Before today, however, the engagement with content focused on WeChat was far less than we saw for TikTok. NPR drove the most engagement, followed by Bloomberg and NBC, but it was a fraction of the levels of engagement that was driven by TikTok ban speculation. NPR saw 111k engagements on its WeChat ban content, and it was the only publisher to drive more than 100,000 on the topic.

Chart showing the top publishers writing about the WeChat ban, ranked by engagement

That engagement all essentially came from one article, with reporting on the executive order from NPR prominently mentioning WeChat too.

Chart showing the most engaged articles about the WeChat ban, ranked by engagement

Nearly all of the top articles also mentioned TikTok, with only one mentioning WeChat exclusively in the headline, as Bloomberg examined the potential impact to Apple

As we saw, much of the reporting on September 18th focuses on WeChat in the headline as much as TikTok, so there is likely to be a huge surge in public interest around WeChat in the coming days, especially if the ban goes through on Sunday. 

If you’d like to do this analysis for yourself, take a tour of the NewsWhip product suite.

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