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Social Networks Beyond Silicon Valley: The International Upstarts Taking Over the Market

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Social Networks Beyond Silicon Valley: The International Upstarts Taking Over the Market

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As of 2019, approximately 3 billion people are active on some form of social media network. While the most popular social networks (historically, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Snapchat) have traditionally been based in the US, two of today’s fastest growing social networks have broken away from the US-centric trend: China’s TikTok and France’s Yubo.

These social apps haven’t just bucked the geographical rules of the social media landscape—they have also rewritten the core tenets of how “social media” is supposed to work.

Breaking Down the Social Networks of the Future?

Complex, multi-platform social networks like Facebook have dominated the social media industry so far.

As we look towards the future of social media, however, the sector will be increasingly confronted by the fact that apps with simple designs and streamlined interfaces are far more profitable than bloated multi-function social media platforms. Nowhere is this trend more demonstrable than in the surging growth of TikTok and Yubo.

Based in China, TikTok is a social media app that revolves around creating and sharing 15-second long video clips. TikTok’s focus on short-form videos encourages users to create highly shareable content, with popular uploads including quick comedy sketches, lip sync battles and cosplay unveilings.

TikTok’s editing suite of filters, songs and sound effects are similarly designed to ensure maximum virality, distilling various internet memes and subcultures to their purest essence.

TikTok’s collection of binge-worthy features has made it immensely popular amongst teenagers, the cohort that defines the cutting edge of Internet culture, passing more than 1 billion downloads worldwide in 2018.

Meanwhile France’s Yubo has offered millions of teenage users—largely based in the US— an escape from the mass-market and increasingly impersonal experiences of social media giants like Facebook.

Unlike established US-based social media companies, there is sense that Yubo is actively attempting to combat one of the most damaging shortcomings of legacy social media networks: the platform-level fixation with views, likes and engagements.

In an attempt to counteract this unhealthy trend, Yubo’s main feature is its live-streaming rooms, virtual communities where users can chat and share content in a safe and engaging social environment.

To prevent these communities from being exploited by undesirable individuals, Yubo has eschewed conventional tactics when it comes to user features, employing active moderation of questionable content and restricting teenage communities to users that are between the ages of 13 and 17.

Yubo’s commitment to a safer and more social user experience has helped the app obtain a reputation for authenticity, an increasingly rare qualifier when it comes to social media networks.

With slightly over 20 million worldwide users, Yubo has nowhere near the user base of social media juggernauts like Facebook or Instagram. However, Yubo’s focus on recreating candid human interactions in an online social environment is expected to keep Yubo fresh and relevant — a stark contrast to the aging Silicon Valley heavyweights Yubo aims to overthrow.

How Will US-Based Social Media Companies Respond?

“Buy out or replicate” has been the historic strategy of the American social media juggernauts when confronted with competition, whether from domestic or overseas contenders. However, there are signs that this approach may not be as viable as it once was.

Although Facebook has since pushed out a copycat product emulating TikTok, Zuckerberg himself has admitted that TikTok is “the first consumer internet product built by one of the Chinese tech giants that is doing quite well around the world.”

The burgeoning success of social media networks like TikTok and Yubo comes at a time when Facebook — a platform facing accusations of everything from system-wide interface bloat to facilitating election interference — is losing the battle to retain its cultural cachet.

According to a 2018 study from the Pew Research Center, only 51% of U.S. respondents aged 15 to 17 said they used Facebook. In comparison, a 2015 version of the same study recorded that 71% of Americans aged 15 to 17 used the social network.

The dramatic three-year decline in Facebook’s teenage user base has been juxtaposed with a rise in adolescent engagement with more streamlined and ostensibly more creative social media platforms, namely, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.

Within the teenage demographic, the move away from Facebook is particularly pronounced amongst higher income families, likely reflecting the impact of class divisions upon teenage accessibility to modern HD-camera equipped smartphones and unrestricted mobile data plans.

The teens that do still use Facebook often see it as an easy way of staying connected with the adults in their lives, but not as a place to meaningfully communicate and interact with those their own age.

Given the tremendous success of Chinese social media apps like TikTok, it is not unreasonable to expect that growing overseas competition in the social media industry will only accelerate declining teenage engagement with legacy social media companies like Facebook.

Transitioning to Tomorrow’s Social Networks

As a greater variety of social networks based outside of the US gain traction, American social media companies, which have long enjoyed outsize influence over cultural norms, digital communication rules and global information distribution, are facing competition that cannot simply be bought or replicated.

As the social media landscape begins to move away from US-based, legacy social media companies, there are fears that the transition could magnify existing problems plaguing contemporary social media platforms.

These problems — which include illegal data collection, cyber bullying, online radicalization, targeted advertising, and fake news — are too complicated and too widespread for any one social media company to handle.

Fortunately, despite their relative youth, apps like Yubo and— to a lesser extent—TikTok are trailblazing a path towards a less problematic, more creative and more socially responsible social media user experience. If we want to improve the way we interact with social media, then diversifying away from the static solutions of Silicon Valley is an encouraging step in the right direction.

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Social Networks Beyond Silicon Valley: The International Upstarts Taking Over the Market

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