Around 2017 the Chinese social media app Douyin was re-branded for the international market as TikTok, and quickly gained market share, with 80 million downloads stateside in 2018. TikTok is purely short videos, and if you can believe it, TikTok is even more sensational than Instagram, with an algorithm masterfully designed to pulse dopamine to viewers as they fritter away their lives glued to their smartphones. Content is re-presented ad nauseum, which on TikTok means that someone makes a video of someone watching someone watch a video of someone reacting to someone else’s reaction to a content creator’s original video! (yes, it gets convoluted like that).
From the beginning, app developers sounded alarms about TikTok’s potential to siphon user data to the Chinese government. These concerns reached a peak in 2020 when, expectedly, usage of TikTok surged as the world was forcibly quarantined. President Trump’s brilliant plan to punish TikTok’s Chinese ownership was to threaten an outright ban then strong-arm a deal whereby Walmart and Microsoft’s Oracle would pay said ownership millions of dollars (that’ll learn ‘em!). Ultimately the deal did not go through by the time the Donald left office, yet concerns lingered about China trawling TikTok’s user data.
These concerns’ latest iteration is Senate Bill 686, which empowers the Secretary of Commerce to determine whether any mode or technology for communication has enough ties to a “foreign adversary” to warrant being outlawed by decree, fines, forfeiture and even prison. The bill empowers the President to seize citizens and U.S.-based foreign nationals’ securities in companies supposedly linked to foreign adversaries. Worse yet, the bill exempts such governmental interventions from disclosures through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which means that the USA’s distrust of totalitarian China is prompting it to behave just like China!
Looking a level deeper, let’s realize that the USA’s dislike of China possibly siphoning TikTok’s user data is the kettle calling the pot black, as the National Security Administration’s threat fusion centers currently mine all our sensitive communications for nefarious purposes. Nor did our government have much problem with TikTok when “overworked” nurses thereon were choreographing dance routines during the ‘Rona to promote the jabcine. Let’s realize then that government is the very last entity which should have control over how citizens communicate, even if on platforms of dubious quality like TikTok.
Please take the time today to contact your representative in Congress to oppose this bill. And if you use TikTok, please predetermine over what interval of time you’ll consume it and exercise due caution when sharing about yourself.