Op-Ed: Trump, TikTok, and Tension–Chinese influence rises on Social Media

Sam Hewitt
Contributing Writer

Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

Donald Trump, President of the United States, showed his support for a deal on Sept. 19, that Oracle and Wal-Mart, two American companies, have made with Chinese company ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok.

The deal was made as a response to Trump issuing an executive order stating that unless such a deal was made, TikTok would be forbidden to use in the U.S. A large part of this deal was that the personal data of over 100 million monthly users in the U.S. was to be transferred from servers in China to the U.S. ByteDance, however, denies these servers even exist, despite the evidence found in a batch of datamined code, according to an Aug. 26, Ben Love Joy article on 9to5Mac.

It seems easy, especially for someone on the political left, to dismiss this idea as “radical” or “fear mongering.” However, what Trump doesn’t realize is that he’s not being radical enough, because this entire deal and argument is flawed, and all because of one seemingly minor law passed by China’s National People’s Congress.

The 2017 National Intelligence Law, at the time it was passed, seemed like a minor follow-up to other similar laws in the past. The difference, however, is that the 2017 law includes this phrase in Article 7: “An organization or citizen shall support, assist in, and cooperate in national intelligence work in accordance with the law.”

On paper, this sounds just like the kind of law the U.S. would pass for national security reasons, but in practice, it means that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is allowed to demand any private or personal information from private companies, even if the people involved don’t live, or have never even visited China. Private companies just like ByteDance have been struck down with domestic sanctions or even seized production by government-sponsored workers’ unions for violating this law, and this means that ByteDance will likely comply.

This, in turn means that the personal data of one third of the U.S. population, not to mention large numbers of people in NATO countries, is one declaration away from being seized by the government of the most outspoken foreign enemy of the U.S. and its allies. This is an absolute outrage, especially as global tensions are quickly rising into a second Cold War.

As for TikTok itself, it’s hard to look at the app and say that the benefits outweigh the consequences. The main premise of the app is creating short videos and sharing them to the community of users. One reason that the app seems so much more addicting to its users than most other social media apps is the algorithm on which it runs.

Specifically, when the user opens up the app, it will show them popular videos immediately, as opposed to other apps where they would have to build up their own place of interest by following certain people or liking certain posts. TikTok will look at the videos the user has liked, and gradually build up that place of interest for them. This simple strategy is how ByteDance, and China, have begun their infiltration into Western social media.

Think about browsing those video clips, and think of the atrocities the Chinese government has committed, and will continue to commit in the future. Think for a moment about what’s most important to the world: The presence of an app to mindlessly scroll through all day, or preventing genocidal governments from taking over the free world’s social network and personal data.


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