What’s Happening to TikTok?

By Angelina Zervos and Omkar Ratnaparkhi

Opinions Editor, News Editor

Angelina: If you’re a super-duper paper fan, then you’ll remember that Omkar and I had an epic debate last spring regarding everyone’s favorite new social media platform: Tik Tok. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, no worries, here’s a really quick summary of our main talking points – 

Angelina: Tik Tok is a creative video sharing platform to post short videos with music or voice overs.

Omkar: Tik Tok is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party. 

Considering some pretty major developments between Tik Tok and the U.S. government (is Tik Tok getting banned? Is China using the app to spy on helpless American teenagers? Will Donald Trump finally create an official White House Tik Tok account @therealdonaldjtrump?) we figured it’d be fitting to revisit our previous article from a news-y stance.

What’s going on?

Omkar: The stage was set for Tiktok and WeChat downloads to be banned on Sunday September 20th, and WeChat would also cease internet traffic immediately. However, on Saturday afternoon President Trump approved a preliminary deal allowing TikTok downloads to continue on one condition. Tiktok has until November 12th to sell its US-based operations to Oracle and Walmart or it will face the same consequences as WeChat and all of its internet traffic will be completely shut down. The ban on WeChat has temporarily failed because a US Magistrate Judge struck the ban down on grounds of First Amendment violations. Despite the drastic measures being taken to shut down the data-mining capabilities of TikTok, some national security analysts believe that the measures don’t go far enough. The deal between ByteDance (the parent company of TikTok) and Oracle and Walmart still allows ByteDance to retain majority holding in TikTok, meaning that Beijing–not Washington– will have greater control over some of the app’s operations. On top of that, Oracle is not allowed to examine the source code of the app. Although the deal does successfully stop the data of Americans from entering Chinese servers, the control of the narratives pushed on the app and some aspects of the censorship seen on it (TikTok has been accused of censoring accounts depicting China’s internment of Uighur Muslims) may remain in control of the ByteDance and the Chinese government. Many members of America’s intelligence community are actually shaking their heads and saying that this is only a partial solution to the problem, and in reality this goes against what they were working towards. 

President Trump’s Shenanigans:

Angelina: Dictatorship checkkk! Okay, logistically, foreign data mining could pose a threat to national security (right? I dunno, I always enter my email address as soon as I’m prompted no matter what the website is). Originally, TikTok was set to be BANNED FOREVER unless President Trump accepted TikTok’s new proposal to make changes to the way they store data (I was getting ready to re-download it quick so I could sell my ratty old iPhone for 3x the amount of money it’s worth! Flappy Bird 2.0!) But it turns out, with Oracle and Walmart (?!) stepping in to save TikTok, this doesn’t seem to be the case. But you should expect that some changes are headed towards the way TikTok operates; will this affect the interface of the app? We’ll just have to wait and see.  Anyway, you should definitely use a more trusted, American social media site to store your data, like Facebook 🙂

Omkar: Many journalists following the various antics of the Trump Administration have described the Trump Presidency as thuggish. A month ago–when it seemed like Microsoft and not Oracle would buy TikTok’s American operations–President Trump insinuated that the United States government should get a cut (commission) of the deal. In reality, the President has no authority to legally mandate this and is simply acting like a mob boss who would demand a commission for the construction of a building that he has no stake in.

From Microsoft to Oracle:

Angelina: Didn’t know what Oracle was until it got dragged into this whole TikTok debacle? Me neither! (I’m a comm. and culture major, leave me alone). Basically, it’s a big-ass computer software company. They were supposed to be TikTok’s get out of jail free card by acting as their American “technology partner.” That way, all of its American user data could be stored safely here in the US of A, and TikTok wouldn’t necessarily have to sell. It’s believed that Oracle was chosen to be TikTok’s partner because of their historically good relationship with the Trump administration – but alas, that didn’t stop them from declaring that TikTok (as well as the other China-based app WeChat) will no longer be available for download off the App Store, with more restrictions to come in November 😦

Edit: Omkar and I are losing our minds trying to follow what’s going on. Walmart?! Honestly though, what’s a more American deal than Walmart & a Chinese data-stealing kid’s app?

What we think:

Angelina: My previous take on TikTok was that it’s a great platform for the sharing of valuable information and the creation of communities. Specifically, I believe that TikTok has proven to be a space where marginalized voices could be amplified. I’d say that generally, I still stick with that belief, however, you may be surprised to discover that I’ve deleted the app from my phone since our last TikTok article was published. Like any social media app, especially one that’s geared towards younger generations, it’s become a breeding ground for slimy child predators and a plethora of other nasty online communities (racists, misogynists, homophobes, transphobes, etc.) I definitely should be more concerned about the threat of online data-mining – is it bad that I’ve become desensitized to the idea that our government (and the government’s of other countries) have unlimited access to my personal data? That being said, the creators of TikTok have adamantly denied that the data of American users is being sent/stored in China. I do believe that the banning of an app that has allowed for open discussions about politics, world events, and social issues will set a scary precedent for other forms of restriction in the future. But hey, it’s the 20s again! We have to have some sort of prohibition, right?

Omkar: The transfer of TikTok’s American operations and the ban of WeChat certainly pushes American national security in the correct direction. The ban/forceful-transfer of TikTok also heightens the debate about how much the government can curtail potential First Amendment freedoms in the name of national security. In the past, the US Government has successfully argued some restrictions on free speech when taking national security and the public interest into account, but the debate to which extent these restrictions can exist will continue. The most comical part of this debate is the fact that the Politburo (the leadership and policymakers of the Chinese Communist Party) and their media outlets have played the victim card and decried America’s assault upon their freedoms. There are many reasons why this is highly hypocritical. For starters, the Politburo have repeatedly censored, threatened, imprisoned, and even killed those who disagree with their policies. It’s not a coincidence that TikTok regularly took down posts referencing protests in Hong Kong or the internment of Uighur Muslims. The most brazen part about Chinese officials whining about a social media platform being banned is the fact that China has banned almost all American social media platforms including: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. The most popular platform in China is of course Tencent’s WeChat, Tencent, like all major Chinese corporations has close ties to the Politburo. Users of TikTok will most likely still be able to express themselves under the management of Oracle and Walmart, and the Communist Party of China has no standing to decry “censorship.”

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