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TikTok Is Harmless, Except That It's Not

By Dustin Rowles | Social Media | November 27, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | Social Media | November 27, 2019 |


TikTok is kind of like the Planet Fitness of social media platforms: There’s no judgment. It’s a cool social media experiment where both young people and adults go to be themselves, no matter how uncool they might be. Teenagers make videos with their parents; moms hang out and make corny lip-syncing vids.

TikTok is essentially detached from the news cycle. It’s a bunch of corny music videos; memes; dog videos; and teenagers playing harmless pranks on adults. The Times captures the spirit of TikTok perfectly in this paragraph:

The appeal of watching people revel in the simple joys of being human — of making memes with their moms, and grandmas, and tiny giggling great-grandmothers — is easier to grasp when you think about the usual situation of young people online, their normal teenage self-consciousness and anxiety over how to present themselves amplified, to a terrifying degree, by social media in which people compete for attention and receive real-time feedback on the results. Is it any wonder they are captivated by the spectacle of someone who does not have to care so much about any of this?

It’s fun and harmless, except that it’s not. Because it’s owned by a Chinese company, the same China that recently suspended billions of dollars in business deals with the NBA over a single tweet that showed fairly benign support for democracy efforts in Hong Kong.

Don’t think for a second that those same Chinese censors won’t come for American content on TikTok, either. In fact, they already have. Here’s Feroza Aziz, whose account was suspended over this video.

Tik Tok says it doesn’t censor, although it clearly does censor accounts containing popular videos with anti-Chinese political sentiment. It does not, however, censor racist content.

It’s also, according to documents obtained by The Guardian, advancing Chinese interests abroad:

TikTok, the popular Chinese-owned social network, instructs its moderators to censor videos that mention Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, or the banned religious group Falun Gong, according to leaked documents detailing the site’s moderation guidelines.

The documents, revealed by the Guardian for the first time, lay out how ByteDance, the Beijing-headquartered technology company that owns TikTok, is advancing Chinese foreign policy aims abroad through the app.

Remember how Russian bots used Facebook to spread a massive disinformation campaign during the 2016 elections? Don’t think that China won’t use TikTok to push their own agenda in America and abroad. It might even explain the popularity of Pete Buttigieg.