Other View: The TikTok hawks: House hearing hysterics obscure broader social media problems
So TikTok could be used to manipulate political audiences? Facebook and Twitter have plenty of experience with that.
The ubiquitous social video app TikTok did not have a great day as CEO Shou Zi Chew was dragged before Congress to ostensibly testify, but really be berated, by lawmakers out for blood. In more than five hours of testimony, they painted the company as some sort of nefarious Chinese government sleeper agent, plotting against an unsuspecting public.
There is plenty of cause for concern about TikTok’s corporate practices and general societal impact. The company is opaque about its algorithms and foments the development of sometimes harmful online subcultures often targeting children, causing damage to their mental health, spreading misinformation and prioritizing engagement over all.
It mines data and creates profiles of users and likely non-users, which can be tapped for everything from individualized advertising to more nefarious political manipulation and conspiracy-mongering. Yet those undesirable attributes also apply to a decent chunk of Silicon Valley companies, and certainly almost all popular social media platforms. Hell, it’s practically their business model, and they’ve fought tooth and nail to preserve it.
So TikTok could be used to manipulate political audiences? Facebook and Twitter have plenty of experience with that. It encourages teenagers to adopt warped perceptions of healthy bodies and lifestyles? Instagram’s got you covered. Its algorithm leads people to hateful content? That’s YouTube’s turf. It pulled user data to spy on journalists? Uber has done just that and worse.
The point is not to shrug away others’ misdeeds, but to point out that the whole tech sector lacks regulation, and to single out TikTok is to scapegoat it and divert attention from the sorry state of our modern public squares. And we’ve not seen evidence that TikTok, which is not available in China, is the advance cadre of the People’s Liberation Army.
By all means, have bipartisan outrage at TikTok, and its contemporaries, too. But lawmakers moving to ban just TikTok under some rather strained and conspiratorial arguments about its ties to Beijing and then calling it a day are burying their heads in the sand.
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