Privacy, Children, and Xenophobic TikTok Bans

Photo credit: CNBC
Photo credit: CNBC

By Alisha Wilson

One should question the vehement response to TikTok and warnings to the American public by congresspersons like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers that took place three weeks ago. Are they truly concerned with the privacy of Americans when tech conglomerates like Facebook, Amazon, and Google have been “spying” and “manipulating” the people for years. Our minds are still fresh with the memory of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal where there was actual evidence of a data breach which potentially weakened trust in our democracy and faith in our government to protect the citizens from Big Data. Guess what? No banning– just a slap on the wrist and a fine that did not put a dent in the company’s wallet. 

And Facebook (Meta) doesn’t just sell advertisement space– they sell you, the user. Companies are not buying space on Facebook to advertise to zero users, they are looking to attract the attention of Facebook’s 2.96 billion monthly users. It’s reminiscent of grocery stores– you go to check out what you came to the store for and then you see all the goodies lined up for you to grab, an arms length away, on Facebook it’s only a click away. And the company is way more efficient as it collects data on how long you spend looking at an item or post, and messages you send and receive, and more.

Is TikTok killing our children? 

The simple answer is, no. At least, no more than any other social media sites! Recent outlets have been discussing the Pass out challenge which isn’t new– this challenge and others like cinnamon challenge, and salt ice challenge have been around since the birth of social media. No serious claims that Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook was killing our kids back then. Regarding self-harming, and self image content, they are no different than other social media companies. The algorithm works by following user activity so as the AP report noted– if you put “lose weight” in your username, the user will see content pertaining to that. The algorithm works by following the user’s movements on the site which is why you can select to not see content from certain creators. With the data that children are creating user experiences that negatively impact their mental health, I’d hope to see Congress fighting for better access to mental health programs for children, not banning a site for exposing the issues our youth are facing and how they are feeling.

So, what’s the true difference between other social media sites and TikTok?

It’s a Mark versus Shou issue. It’s an American versus Chinese issue and the questioning that Shou underwent is beginning to appear as a dog whistle. While we are only a couple years post the “China virus” ignominy with Donald Trump and the Anti-Asian hate that erupted soon after when Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers decides to state “To the American people watching today, hear this: TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you, manipulate what you see and exploit for future generations,” while not attempting to effectively address the issues we have with other social media platforms creates an “us versus them” environment that negatively affects the Asian communities in our country. This was less about the concern for the American people and more about hypocrisy and xenophobia in Washington with its foundation being rhetoric, instead of evidence concerning TikTok.

And while there is an argument to be made regarding Big Tech companies, our data, and children this is not it. In fact the only valid criticism of TikTok in the hearing of March 23rd was from congresswoman Yvette Clarke as she eloquently voiced concerns about the discrimination against Black content creators on the app. But, is this grounds for having the app banned? No. 

We are witnessing a witch hunt against those who Congress feels should not be allowed to outearn American companies.

On the topic of American companies, the category is irony! Discord is an instant messaging social platform, which is also used for streaming, headquartered in San Francisco, California. And it is the new example of domestic threats to national security as Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard is accused of leaking classified documents on the platform to close friends. However, the leak didn’t stop there, instead it spread all the way to Twitter where Elon Musk played with the idea of removing them from the internet

Since we are discussing Twitter, we can talk about how the recent decision to remove a policy against deadnaming will affect our transgendered children across the country. Twitter is making it clear that hate speech is no longer a priority on their app since Musk took over.

Meanwhile, although there was no evidence of wrongdoing on TikTok’s part, Montana became the first state to ban the social media platform completely. The question now is for the American people: Do you like and want your rights?

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