Banning TikTok changes nothing in the grand social media landscape
Exclusively targeting one platform will not fix what is wrong with the social network industry’s business practices
Do not mistake this for any endorsement or defense of TikTok, but everything the company has been accused of recently is standard practice amongst social media networks. Hyper-focusing on one “bad apple” of a company means nothing when it is the whole barrel that is so thoroughly rotten.
Unfortunately, the United States Congressional hearing on March 23 that questioned TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew did not seem to consider that factor with regards to potentially banning the social media site due to concerns of its effect on children’s mental health, misinformation, and sharing user data with foreign entities.
The federal government of Canada has banned the app from government-issued devices with provinces and territories following suit. There is now discourse on potentially banning TikTok from Canada and the U.S. outright.
Social media has evolved since the beginning of the internet. Long gone are the days of user-generated forums and chat-rooms as the primary method of digital communication. Now is the time of the corporate, globalized, revenue-driven platforms.
TikTok did not invent the concept of data selling, nor is it the only one doing so. Today’s web is defined by the collection and sale of personal data by just about every platform to target specially curated advertisements to individual users based on recent online searches. In some cases, private data is mined by the government in conjunction with big tech companies for reportedly good-natured reasons or possibly ones more self-serving.
Misinformation is abundant in just about every corner of social media. This is thanks to algorithms being deliberately geared to favour content that generates the most buzz amongst users, regardless of factuality.
Mental health is also often impacted by social media because these sites are designed to be dopamine dischargers.
After mixing these elements together, we wind up with lying, stealing, addictive mechanisms that have dominated interpersonal interactions in the modern age. If any legislative body – from Congress to Parliament – were serious about cutting down these effects, then Mark Zukerberg, Elon Musk, and much of Silicon Valley’s employees would be grilled in front of committee panels as Chew was.
Yet they were not, and there is a reason for that.
The current backlash against TikTok is an extension of geopolitics. As it stands, the People’s Republic of China – where TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based out of – is currently not in good standing with the Western world.
Keeping it simple, recent relations went sour with the origin of COVID-19 and have only gotten worse with the increasing economic competition against the U.S., allegations of interference in the 2021 Canadian Federal election, and the infamous “spy balloon” incident that dominated the news cycle earlier this year.
The U.S. and China are entering what could potentially be called a new Cold War as tensions escalate. As part of this political posturing, the U.S. Congress used this hearing to show just how much of a threat China is by targeting TikTok’s relationship with the Chinese government.
Just about everything TikTok has been accused of is exactly what Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the likes do in the U.S. Banning TikTok does nothing to reform the tech industry but instead feeds into its awfulness and breeds paranoia against another country.