TikTok banned: America is losing confidence
Published: Apr 06, 2023 11:52 AM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

"People should be able to make their own decisions" about using TikTok, Grace Featherston, a senior student at the University of Texas, said when receiving an email about the campus TikTok ban. She believes that the US government's move encroached on her personal liberties. As Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks said, a crackdown on TikTok would "damage our allegiances across the globe, destroy jobs here in the United States and undercut core American values of free speech and free enterprise."

On February 27, the White House set a "deadline" for purging TikTok, a popular social media app for short videos, from all federal devices within 30 days.

Prior to TikTok, no software application had ever caused such an uproar across the US government. The scope of the ban eventually expanded from state governments to the entire federal government. What is the US so hysterical about and afraid of?

US officials have accused TikTok of "data collection," "digital fentanyl," and "violation of privacy," without ever disclosing any compelling evidence.

Georgetown University law professor Anupam Chander said, "There isn't any concrete evidence that American TikTok users have had their data shared." The Atlantic Council has also published an article stating that there is no substantial evidence as to why TikTok is a national security threat to average Americans.

Just take a look at the world-renowned hearing held on March 23 before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, TikTok's CEO Shou Zi Chew repeatedly tried to provide a large amount of evidence, factual information to prove TikTok's innocence, and responded patiently to each question posed by the legislators present.

However, arrogant US lawmakers asked absurd and critical questions in an endless  barrage, without listening carefully to Chew's answers, and instead made selective, biased and preconceived judgments.

Thus, the Congressmen did not hold this hearing with the intention of giving a rational answer to the TikTok case and ultimately solve the issue. On the contrary, the real purpose is to make a presumption of guilt and pave the way for further squeezing TikTok's living space.

For them, TikTok's success is the real danger. 

According to analytics firm Sensor Tower, TikTok surpassed 3.5 billion all-time downloads in Q1 of 2021. Also, it was the most downloaded app in the US in 2022, surpassing Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other US apps, despite tremendous pressure from peer competitors from Meta. Once TikTok begins to take a piece of the pie, those vested interests and their patrons in Washington D.C. will rush to the rescue. 

Apart from the business success, TikTok's influence among young Americans has terrified the Establishment. They are worried that a social media company, which is not 100-percent "native," might change the narrative of many issues, and that others will follow suit and manipulate public opinion. Do they still defend the tenet of freedom of expression? Yes, but only when it serves the US right. 

So, TikTok must die. And the label "China related surveillance company" must be pinned on it at a time when "anything but China" is a fashion in the Washington Bubble. It's the easiest way to get rid of a trouble, but the most irresponsible concerning the rights of the American people. Just as Douglas Schmidt, an American technology expert from the Software Engineering Institute, has commented, the banning of TikTok is "the perfect storm of technology meeting geopolitical rivalry." And this is nothing new. In the cases of Japanese semiconductor company Toshiba Corporation and French company Alstom, as well as the latest one of China's IT giant Huawei, the US government has followed the same playbook. 

The farce about TikTok has once again removed the emperor's new clothes for the US - the world's No.1 superpower, the so-called champion of liberalism, free market economy and fair competition, and the self-boasted advocate of "rules-based international order." What is shown to the world is sheer sci-tech hegemonism, and a superpower that is losing confidence and getting more and more desperate.

However, applying double standards and undermining international rules will not help save US hegemony, but only backfire on itself. 

The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Global Times, China Daily etc. He can be reached at xinping604@gmail.com.