TikTok: Trump versus the teenagers

TikTok: Trump versus the teenagers

TikTok is “emerging as a platform for protesters and mischief-makers,” said Georgia Wells in The Wall Street Journal, raising the ire of governments around the world. Known mainly as an irreverent alternative space where teens post lip-syncing sketches and short-form videos, TikTok has drawn new attention as it has become an organizing tool for young activists. TikTok is owned by a China-based company, ByteDance, leading to worries that the app could give Beijing access to user data and pose a security risk. The State and Defense departments have barred employees from downloading TikTok, and the Trump administration last week suggested it might seek a much broader U.S. ban. Amazon, too, considered blocking the app from its 500,000 employees’ phones. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, TikTok made a speedy exit from Hong Kong after China implemented a strict new security law that “empowers police to make internet companies hand over user data.”

For the Trump administration TikTok’s threat is not just about China, said Christina Prignano in The Boston Globe. After a smaller-than-anticipated crowd showed up at President Trump’s rally in Tulsa last month, teens on TikTok took credit for having sabotaged the event by filling out “thousands of fake registrations” to “prompt the campaign to create space for an overflow crowd that did not materialize.” Activists tried the stunt again with a Trump rally planned for Portsmouth, N.H., possibly contributing to the campaign’s decision to cancel the event. The threatened U.S. ban sounds like political bluster, said Tae Kim in Bloomberg.com. The Trump administration needs to clarify exactly what security threat TikTok poses. Unlike Facebook, it collects little data about users, and its quick exit from Hong Kong shows that it is not ready to be a tool of China’s government. TikTok became a global phenomenon because it is “less filled with hate and disinformation, and genuinely funnier than most other platforms.” Barring a successful Chinese company from the U.S. looks like simple protectionism.

A “ban” is also easier said than done, said Adi Robertson in TheVerge.com. India recently blocked TikTok, along with dozens of other Chinese apps, by imposing a network firewall between servers and users. However, “American law doesn’t have any precedent for blocking software in that way.” Unlike Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant that’s been barred by the Commerce Department from doing business with U.S. companies, TikTok “isn’t facing criminal charges for racketeering and trade-secret theft.” The government would have to persuade Apple and Google to deplatform ByteDance based on “suspicions, not legal complaints.”

 

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