There’s a big debate in Washington about whether we should ban TikTok from the US, says Noah Smith in Noahpinion. “Of course we should.” The app, owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, logs pretty much all the data stored on users’ phones, from physical location to faceprints, browsing history and text messages. That information basically belongs to the Chinese Community Party, which could use it for all sorts of “nefarious purposes”: intimidating critics, industrial espionage and so on. This isn’t just fear-mongering. TikTok has already admitted “tracking journalists’ physical movements” and sending the data to company HQ in China.
The bigger threat is propaganda. TikTok employees admit they have been told to “highlight pro-China messaging”; at one point, moderators even banned videos referencing issues like the Tiananmen Square massacre and Tibetan independence. What happens if China invades Taiwan, and Beijing gets TikTok to block content in support of Taipei? Given a quarter of young Americans regularly get their news from the app, that could have a huge impact on public opinion. People argue that banning TikTok would merely widen the online divide between China and the West. But that ship has sailed – Beijing has long banned Google, Facebook and anything else it doesn’t like. In other areas, such as trade, the US has belatedly woken up to the fact that it’s not battling China on a level playing field, and begun fighting fire with fire. It’s high time we did the same with the internet.