The hypocrisy around Tiktok – economy

Parents are afraid. Do children watch dance videos on cellphones mixed with subliminal communist messages? Are the videos, in which teenagers and influencers are guilty of moderate trivia, actually weapons in a world conflict? This is how politicians portray Tiktok, the app of the Bytedance group from China. Tiktok has more than a billion users, it is a commercial and cultural phenomenon that has left its mark on at least one generation. The algorithm that triggers a greed for new short videos is a technological and psychological stroke of genius.

US politicians are increasingly criticizing the app as a threat to national security and the privacy and health of young people, wanting to ban it or force owners to sell it. A few days ago, US lawmakers let company boss Shou Zi Chew, well, show up in Congress. They accused him of Tiktok being the extended arm of China.

Distrust of the app is justified, but with its condemnation comes a lot of hypocrisy. None of those involved should be concerned about privacy or the oh-so-tender souls of teenagers. It’s about hard-hitting political and economic interests.

In fact, Tiktok is a novelty. A globally successful entertainment app that could be exploited by an authoritarian regime. However, the evidence is thin. Tiktok employees have already been caught spying on critical journalists. And at least in Tiktok’s sister app Douyin, which only exists in China, propaganda terms in the sense of the Communist Party appear at the forefront of trending topics. But Western politicians have provided no evidence of systematic espionage or propaganda on Tiktok. Unsure parents can breathe easy for the time being.

Nevertheless, it would be naïve to believe that China’s leadership would forego this digital lever on the mobile phones of hundreds of millions of people in the West in an emergency. If China attacks Taiwan, Beijing can quickly be tempted to spread its view of things and suppress uncomfortable truths in this way. Then it will be seen how well the firewalls with which Tiktok claims the company protects data from users in the USA and Europe from access from China will hold up.

Tiktok claims anyway that they are not “Chinese” at all, since they are based in Singapore and the USA. However, the parent company Bytedance is based in Beijing and is therefore exposed to practically unrestricted access by the state. Before Chew’s appearance in Congress explained China’s Ministry of Commerce, one will brace oneself against the forced sale of Tiktok discussed in the USA. The government thus admitted that it saw the app as part of its own sphere of influence.

Despite all justified skepticism, the Tiktok Theater in the USA has a political function. An uncompromising stance against China is one of the few points on which Republicans and Democrats agree. Anyone who is considered “soft on China” (lax about China) does not need to run in the election campaign. The bogeyman is cheap, as the noisy congressional hearing showed. So becomes a danger to the Interests of the USA to a danger for the American youth reinterpreted.

The US government has repeatedly emphasized that poor data protection at Tiktok is a threat to national security. That national security in the name of which the USA itself spied on its own citizens – the NSA sends its regards. And the US government remains unwilling to force its own tech industry, from Instagram to Google, to protect its citizens’ data. This industry has long held a monopoly on social media, but is now trembling at Tiktok. The pressure on Tiktok also serves to protect the domestic tech industry. The biggest beneficiary of a ban would be the Facebook and Instagram group Meta – itself notorious for data protection catastrophes and all kinds of propaganda in its networks.

Banning Tiktok would frustrate hundreds of millions of young people in the West – a bigger propaganda success for China than it could ever achieve with small-scale algorithm tricks. It’s a good thing that the federal government has so far resisted the theatrical thunder of the demands for a ban.

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