TikTok’s Julie de Bailliencourt explains why the social media phenomenon chose Dublin as a base
TikTok has been the talk of Dublin’s tech scene in recent months. Since setting up its EMEA base and third Trust & Safety Hub in the Irish capital in 2019, the Chinese-owned social-media giant has embarked on a hiring spree that has taken its worker tally from 20 to 1,100 in a year, hiring staff from Dublin’s vibrant tech sector, which is home to giants such as Facebook, Google and Airbnb.
One of those was Julie de Bailliencourt, TikTok’s Global Head of Product Policy. A Parisian by birth, she arrived in Ireland back in 1996 with her boyfriend. “I thought, ‘I’ll come for a few months and see what happens. And I never left,” she says.
In April of last year, TikTok lured De Bailliencourt from Facebook, where safety and security was a key part of her remit. De Bailliencourt’s arrival at TikTok coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, which moved the video-sharing app, best known for its addictive viral dance routines, crazy skits and surreal memes, into the mainstream as billions were cooped up at home looking for distraction.
“It’s been an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience to live through this and see this growth, fuelled by people’s desire to escape a very difficult situation,” she says.
Next year the company will move into a seven-floor office in Dublin’s south docklands with space for 2,000 workers. “There is so much talent out here that it’s actually easy to hire. Having the expertise right on our doorstep has been amazing, which I think is why Ireland continues to attract so much talent and so many companies,” says De Bailliencourt.
Dublin will be home to TikTok’s first data centre in Europe, a €420m investment, and many of its new hires are working in content moderation and data privacy; managing quality and safety of content is a key concern and, crucially, has to be seen to be a top priority — or brands won’t get on board.
“This is a massive investment in creating the right framework,” says de Bailliencourt. “It has to be fun and creative, but also a really safe space.”
To further promote trust, TikTok is creating a transparency and accountability centre to highlight how it uses its technology to help with content reviews, moderation and to help catch potential policy violations. It has also set up a European Safety Advisory Council of third-party experts. “It’s incredibly helpful to be able to have honest conversations with people who will tell us, ‘I think you may be making a mistake here’,” says de Bailliencourt.
Dublin, she says, has become a more international, and socially liberal city since she arrived in the 1990s. “That has been wonderful to witness. I see it reflected in business — in how offices are set up, in diversity discussions. It’s not a checkbox thing. There’s a lovely vibe, hence why I’m still here after all this time.”
Dublin, she feels, hits the sweet spot. It is “big enough to provide people with opportunities and space to live and do different jobs and change careers if they want, but it’s small enough that it feels like a village.”
Ultimately, it’s the people who sell the place, she says: “I found that people in Ireland are gentle and warm and funny; you can have the most amazing in-depth conversation with a taxi driver or somebody in a pub that you don’t know — and in the workplace it’s no different.”And, naturally enough, Ireland’s inimitable sense of humour finds its expression on TikTok. One of De Bailliencourt’s favourites is Lauren Ennis, a teenager from Co. Offaly who describes herself, ironically, as a “culchie TikToker” (culchie being an unsophisticated country person). Ennis’s posts to her 70,000 followers show a humorous side of life on her family’s farm, her love of farming and spotlight women in agriculture.
“She’s authentic and owns her space. She’s not afraid to say what she likes and what she’s passionate about,” says de Bailliencourt admiringly.