TikTok: Teen app infiltrates the U.S.
The world’s fastest-growing social network, TikTok, is the latest powerful platform to draw the ire of U.S. lawmakers, said Tony Romm and Drew Harwell in The Washington Post. Sens. Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.) and Tom Cotton (R.-Ark.) sent a letter last week to the acting director of national intelligence asking officials to examine whether the wildly popular video-sharing app is a “potential counterintelligence threat.” TikTok, which has been downloaded more than a billion times around the world, including 110 million times in the U.S., is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, raising concerns it might “support and cooperate with intelligence work” by the Chinese government. ByteDance denied the allegation and said it stores U.S. user data inside the country. But it has “declined repeatedly to discuss its content-moderation policies,” and lawmakers fret the app could become the next preferred target of foreign influence campaigns.
“If you’re a parent of a tween,” it’s very likely that TikTok is already “part of your family’s life,” said Stephanie Thurrott in NBCNews.com. It’s an app for creating videos, only 15 seconds long, which can be spiced up with a buffet of songs, effects, and sound bites, along with editing features that are easy enough “for kids to create professional-looking videos” to share with friends or a wider circle of users. Most of the videos are “lighthearted and cute” and “involve lip-synching or dancing to pop hits.” It’s also “a safe haven from the flood of political ads our feeds see every election season,” said Alyse Stanley in Gizmodo.com. TikTok bans political ads from the platform, saying they don’t align with the TikTok experience. It’s a nice respite—“we can already yell at each other on Facebook and Twitter.”
TikTok has a darker side, said Alex Hern in The Guardian. The site’s moderators are instructed to remove videos mentioning Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, and the Falun Gong religious group. There is even a list of 20 “foreign leaders or sensitive figures” whose names are banned from the service, including Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. “Notably absent from the list is Xi Jinping, the Chinese chairman.” TikTok has the “potential to be a powerful tool” for the Chinese Communist Party, said Matt Schrader in the Nikkei Asian Review (Japan), and judging by its content-moderation practices, “censorship is already happening.” Even its focus on entertainment could be turned to China’s policy objectives. The Communist Party has made clear that “telling the China story well” is “one of its top external propaganda priorities.” Now the U.S. and other countries have to be “alive to the potential threat TikTok may represent to robust discourse.” ■