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TikTok Law Is An Attempt To Censor, Not A Warning To Big Tech

As US lawmakers’ agitation over TikTok culminates in a law that threatens a nationwide ban if the social media platform isn’t sold to a US buyer within nine months, an emergent media narrative finds a silver lining. Every legislative move targeting TikTok, the story goes, has the potential to inspire much-needed regulation of tech behemoths like Meta, Amazon, Google and Apple. But by conflating the US’s legal treatment of TikTok—a subsidiary of the Beijing-based ByteDance—with that of its own tech industry, media obscure the real reasons for the law’s passage. This was apparent in a New York Times piece (4/25/24) headlined “TikTok Broke the Tech Law Logjam. Can That Success Be Repeated?”

‘These Bills Will Make Children Less Safe, Not More Safe’

Louisiana just banned abortion at six weeks, before many people even know they’re pregnant, while also saying 16-year-old girls are mature enough to marry. Arkansas says there’s no need for employers to check the age of workers they hire. As one state legislator put it, “There’s no reason why anyone should get the government’s permission to get a job.” And Wisconsin says 14-year-olds, sure, can serve alcohol. Iowa says they can shift loads in freezers and meat coolers. Simultaneously and in the same country, we have a raft of legislation saying that young people should not be in charge of what they look at online. Bone saws: cool. TikTok: bad.

Montana TikTok Ban A Sign Of Intensified Cold War With China

There is an emerging consensus in US foreign policy circles that a US/China cold war is either imminent or already underway (Foreign Policy, 12/29/22; New Yorker, 2/26/23; New York Times, 3/23/23; Fox News, 3/28/23; Reuters, 3/30/23). Domestically, the most recent and most intense iteration of this anti-China fervor is the move to ban the Chinese video app TikTok, which is both a sweeping assault on free speech movement and a dangerous sign that mere affiliation with China is grounds for vilification and loss of rights. Several TikTok content creators are suing to overturn “Montana’s first-in-the-nation ban on the video sharing app, arguing the law is an unconstitutional violation of free speech rights,” on the grounds “that the state doesn’t have any authority over matters of national security” (AP, 5/18/23). TikTok followed up with a lawsuit of its own (New York Times, 5/22/23).

Warmongers In Congress Use Tik-Tok To Justify Aggression Towards China

Last Thursday, a Congressional hearing took place where the TikTok CEO was grilled for five hours on the grounds of “security concerns.” This was days after the FBI and DOJ launched an investigation on the Chinese-owned American company. Isn’t it ironic that while the US government is putting TikTok under the magnifying glass, it’s turning a blind eye to its own surveillance programs on the American people? Ten years ago, Edward Snowden told the whole world the truth about the US global surveillance programs. If Congress cares about our digital privacy, it should first begin by investigating the surveillance policies of its own US agencies.

TikTok Diplomacy: A Digital Containment Doctrine

With TikTok, Donald Trump is adding State Department coercion to his “art of the deal” toolkit. After months of feigned concern that the viral TikTok app represents a “trojan horse” for the Communist Party of China to access U.S. consumer data, the Trump Administration issued the Chinese company an ultimatum: sell the app to a U.S. buyer, or be shut down.  Microsoft has stepped forward as a potential buyer of TikTok, a clone of the Chinese video app Douyin tailored for a Western audience.
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