Jay Little
Ship of Fools: The Race to Ban TikTok

04/01/2023 14:27:33

Anybody even remotely invested in keeping up with current events here in America, knows that TikTok is on the verge of being banned. If you are a frequent reader, you already know that I am against that. Doubly so in this case as the US Government has yet to provide a single evidence based argument to support the move, much less addressed the fact that American tech companies engage in largely the same exact kind of behavior that TikTok does.

Personally I don't use TikTok. But that doesn't matter. What matters is whether or not the Internet is still a bastion of free speech or not? To be clear, while I support the ability of platforms to curate their user base based on the content they produce, I do not support giving any Government the power to curate platform user bases nor do I support giving them the power to curate which of these platforms can even be accessed at all.

Sadly our politicians don't feel the same way, President Biden included:

Yesterday, TikTok confirmed that the Biden administration issued an ultimatum to the app’s China-based owners to either divest their stakes or risk a TikTok ban in the US, Reuters reported.

These so-called concerns seem to entirely revolve around the idea that because TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company, that the data TikTok collects can be accessed by the the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). Personally I don't really care what the CCP can or can not access. The fact we are opting to give so much data to any of these companies at all, regardless of what nation-states their corporate overlords are most associated with, is the actual problem we should be attacking.

Why is that a problem? Because all of these companies can do whatever they want with this data once they have it. For example, some choose to sell your location data to the FBI. Some are even forced, by non-Chinese governments, to hand over data in a very secretive, non-transparent process that lacks any real oversight or legal option for recourse. And of course we can't forget that time that a non-Chinese government decided to install spies and spy equipment onsite at major Telecom companies.

Yes all of those examples reference actions taken by the United States Government. That's because as is often the case now, when it comes to moral arguments and judgments posited by our nation, we are occupying the same MC Escher like state that so many other hypocrites find themselves in. Or to put it in another way the United States Government seems to prefer to exist in a state of cognitive dissonance succinctly described by the old adage, "Rules for Thee, Not For Me".

While I have no love for the CCP and their authoritarian tendencies, I have been and remain far more concerned by my own government hoovering up the data of American citizens from American tech companies. It boggles my mind how so many of us turn a blind eye to what is happening right here in our own backyard while squawking about how bad TikTok surely must be because China.

Of course if the latest rendition of regulation being pushed, the RESTRICT Act, is actually passed, this won't end with TikTok being banned. No like most government acts pushed by the less technically competent members of Congress, they have opted to grant the Executive branch a wide swath of new powers that will allow them to ban anything they want without having to even explain themselves or be subjected to anything close to resembling actual oversight. Here's what the EFF has to say about that:

The RESTRICT Act sets the stage for a TikTok ban. But the government has publicly disclosed no specific information that shows narrow tailoring. Worse, three provisions of the bill make such transparency less likely. First, the executive branch need not publicly explain a ban if doing so is not “practicable” and “consistent with … national security and law enforcement interests.” Second, any lawsuit challenging a ban would be constrained in scope and the amount of discovery. Third, while Congress can override the designation or de-designation of a “foreign adversary,” it has no other role.

Passing this act would mark a new level of authoritarianism on the part of both of our political parties as it basically allows the Executive branch ban any platform or app that they want. It shocks me that the useful idiots pushing this garbage on both sides of the fence can't see how this will be horribly misused by some future Administration. I can only imagine what a second Trump or a DeSantis Administration would do with this power. Given that Biden himself seems to be completely and foolishly onboard with the initial TikTok ban, I can only imagine what his Administration would do as well.

Finally let me just say this: I'm disgusted by the growing contagion of anti-Chinese rhetoric that I have seen in this country over the last few years. It has clearly become acceptable and fashionable to decry and bemoan anything that can be associated with China and politicians from both parties seem willing to go along with it. To be clear, I have a lot of problems with the Chinese Government. It's relatively recent actions around Taiwan and Hong Kong are disturbing. Not to mention their ongoing efforts to commit Genocide against the Uyghurs. But I'm also smart enough to know that none of this means that all of China, one of the most populous countries in the world with over a billion people, can be written off as a result.

Thankfully there are a few that have decided to push back, namely AOC and Rand Paul. Like TikTok users, it pains me to give any praise to Rand Paul, but in this particular instance he isn't wrong, so I'm ultimately content to give credit where credit is due.

In any event, banning TikTok is likely going to happen and it will be a massive mistake. Mark my words that if this happens, I'll write more than one post in the future agreeing when Republicans bemoan it when a Democratic Administration bans an app or platform they like (TruthSocial or Gab perhaps) or when Democrats bemon it when a Republican Administration bans one they don't like (insert any platform that decides to ban prominent conservative voices for dissemination of overt bigotry against whatever minority group they happen to be targetting today).

As always when it comes to doom and gloom posts like this: I hope that I am wrong. Short of that, it's going to be a bumpy ride so we may as well strap in and find something to hold onto.

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