Weekly Reads - December 5, 2022
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News of TikTok accounts being run by the propaganda arm of the Chinese government have recently surfaced. These accounts have accumulated millions of followers and tens of millions of views. Many of these posts have been hyper critical of U.S politicians and did not provide disclosures that they there were associated with a foreign government. These accounts are run by MediaLinks LLC who have accumulated a large U.S following by posting politically charged TikTok videos criticizing the biggest politicians in the U.S from Ted Cruz to President Biden. This is not the first time the Chinese government has been caught attempting to influence U.S audiences; in 2019 it was discovered that the Chinese government was spreading misinformation about protests in Hong Kong via Facebook and Twitter. With TikTok as the only social platform with no disclosure requirements there is a heightened risk that foreign governments will continue to use the platform to influence users. With over 80 million U.S monthly active users on the platform with an estimated 90% of users between the ages of 13-34 there is a large and impressionable audience that foreign governments could manipulate with false information. This adds to the concerns of U.S lawmakers who have long feared TikTok’s ability to harvest private data for the Chinese government or use TikTok’s recommendation engine to influence what content users interact with. South Dakota has recently announced they have banned TikTok use on government employee devices citing a threat to national security. Governor Kristi Noem has urged other states and Congress to follow in South Dakota’s lead in protecting the privacy of sensitive U.S data. As TikTok continues to amass users in the U.S it is likely lawmakers will force TikTok to divest its U.S operations to a U.S company or attempt to put controls in place so U.S data is kept on U.S soil.
The SPAC industry is seeing a record rate of cancellations of SPAC mergers in 2022 with more than 55 transactions terminated. These terminated deals account for a fraction of the more than 65 SPAC sponsors shutting down operations and the roughly 470 teams still looking for deals to strike. On Monday, two high profile SPAC deals valued at nearly $11 billion were terminated an hour apart from each other. These deals fell apart due to rising redemption rates as investors seek the safety of cash. These cancellations alongside market volatility have led the SPAC market to considerably underperform the S&P 500 index reducing investor appetite for more SPAC mergers. The De-SPAC index which covers the 25 largest U.S listed companies to come public via a SPAC is down -71% over the last 12 months. More than one third of the 400 companies merged with a SPAC are trading below $2 a share. The SPAC peak in 2019-2020 encouraged reckless deal making leading to a flood of low-quality businesses into public markets. With a majority of investors burned by these deals it is unlikely we see the return of SPAC dealmaking on the levels of 2019-2020.
On Monday, Salesforce announced that Slack Founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield will be leaving the company. This departure comes after Salesforce’s co-CEO Bret Taylor announced he was resigning only a year after being promoted to Co-CEO with Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s co-founder. Slack was acquired for nearly $28 billion last year and added to the company’s suite of enterprise software. Slack has remained independent on Salesforce with its own brand, functionality, and leadership. There is speculation that Butterfield’s resignation is tied to Salesforce management wanting deeper integration of Slack into Salesforce’s existing ecosystem. The new Slack CEO, Lidiane Jones, is a former Salesforce employee indicating that Slack is unlikely to remain independent for long within Salesforce. Management turnover at Salesforce follows an acquisition heavy few years with the company acquiring six companies including Slack, Tableau, MuleSoft for an estimated $52 billion. It is fair to wonder whether the failure to integrate these acquisitions into Salesforce has led to the shakeup of the management team.