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China is using TikTok to destroy our minds

Just another day in the “digital cretin factory”. TikTok/@imandrewvalentine

As the French senate launches an inquiry into TikTok, says Julien Auriach in Le Monde, it’s important to be clear about the app’s dangers. While it’s certainly a possible channel for “disinformation and even large-scale espionage”, more alarming is the way it distorts the mind. Actual propaganda is just a fraction of the content, but the modern propagandist isn’t trying to make you favour any one thought over another. The goal is to “empty truth of its very appeal”, through a barrage of “shiny, punchy, captivating” images that make everything else look bland. One example: nearly 20% of 18 to 24-year-olds believe aliens made the pyramids. This is no longer geopolitical influence. “It’s mass lobotomy.”

Beijing understands this – on the Chinese internet, there is only Douyin, TikTok’s “big sister”, which offers a “restricted version” for young people promoting “content of scientific interest” rather than sparkly pap. Chinese youth cannot log on before 6am or after 10pm, or spend more than 40 minutes a day on the app. The government says these limits are to address China’s epidemic of short-sightedness – but it is really because TikTok is shattering Western children’s attention spans and Beijing wants to spare its own kids from the “digital cretin factory”. Of course, without China’s authoritarian control of the internet, any similar regulations here would end up being symbolic at best. But we’ve got to do something. “TikTok represents the cutting edge of what makes us stupid. Let’s not give it free rein.”