Why TikTok is A National Security Threat For the US?

It’s the hottest video app since vine, in fact it’s the same thing as vine yet for some reason, exploded in popularity over the last year. That’s right, we’re talking about TikTok, and if you’re a fan of online entertainment then no doubt you’ve seen your fair share of TikToks.

And how could you not, new TikToks are sprouting up every day, and they’ve invaded every social media platform from Instagram to Facebook. But today, the US government is concerned that TikTok is itself an invasion of America- a red Chinese invasion! TikTok was originally called Musical.ly, and featured the ability for videos to be set to music. Muscal.ly was also the product of a Shanghai startup, though it featured an office here in the US in Santa Monica, California. A major problem for Chinese media developers is creating an international appeal with their product, and traditionally the world at large has been hugely resistant to Chinese culture, while for their part the Chinese have historically been very obtuse about adapting foreign culture themselves. This makes the nation of China highly insular, and while it may be the most populated nation in the world, it has a very difficult time exporting its own culture to other nations.

This problem is best evidenced by the state of Chinese film. While it produces a large amount of Hollywood-level films every year, the Chinese film industry is simply unable to make a noticeable dent in the global marketplace. While films that reflect ancient Chinese culture can sometimes see some moderate overseas success, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, China has a very serious problem creating anything currently culturally relevant that the world wants to watch.

For this reason Chinese media has agreed with Hollywood, and American actors frequently appear in sizable roles in Chinese films meant for international export, such as Matt Damon’s appearance in The Great Wall. The hope is that American influence will make a Chinese product internationally viable, yet as The Great Wall showed the world by being an international flop, Chinese content creators have a very difficult time making something the rest of the world wants.

Nationalistic Nature of Chinese Content

The problem rests with the very nationalistic nature of Chinese content, and the fact that China has historically been a very insular nation which did not export much of its culture successfully. Add to that censorship from the Communist government and what ends up happening is that Chinese media products are rejected by a world dominated by liberal societies. China may not be able to make global blockbusters the world will pay to see, but with the musical.ly app they were on to a hit.

Knowing how important the American market is to ensuring a global product is a success, the Shanghai developers had specifically targeted American teens with the app, and it was slowly gaining in popularity when the app was bought out by another Chinese company, ByteDance, in November of 2017. By targeting the American market and its host of social media influencers, the rebranded app now known as TikTok gradually grew in popularity and eventually was adopted by notable American celebrities, further propelling it into global success.

Millions Of Users In USA

Today TikTok has been downloaded over 80 million times in the US alone, and 1.5 billion times around the world. It has even adopted a partnership with the American National Football League to produce unique content available only on the app, and it has frequently ranked number 1 amongst app downloads around the world. The app is available in over 150 nations and 75 languages, and was downloaded a whopping 104 million times from Apple’s App store in the first half of 2018 alone.

TikTok is one of the most successful apps in history, and the US government fears that it represents a red Chinese threat. One of the problems Washington has with the app is that it has been adopted for use by terrorist groups, noticeably ISIS. The terrorist content creators proved surprisingly adept at using the app to propel their videos to some small amount of fame- or infamy- even using some of the app’s more ridiculous features such as adorning videos with raining pink hearts.

An App For Terror Groups?

This may sound silly, but it represents a serious threat as the app is mostly used by very impressionable young kids around the world. If ISIS or other terror groups can use the app to normalize their ideology, it will make recruitment much easier, and traditionally speaking young teens are the number one target for extremist recruiters. In response, ByteDance has hired many content moderators who’s job it is to scour TikTok and remove troubling content, but with the sheer amount of content generated every day, this job is impossible. Another thing troubling Washington is all those content moderators, who suspiciously seemed to be much more focused on removing content that Beijing disapproves of, then content that the international community is concerned with. While terror group videos may slip through the moderation cracks, TikTok moderators have proven to be exceedingly effective in culling any content that speaks about Tibetan or Taiwanese independence. With the power to influence hundreds of millions of users, Washington fears that China’s censorship on TikTok will help propel fake narratives about the Chinese government.

For example, any mention of China’s illegal imprisonment of 1 million Uyghur Muslims in government brain-washing camps is immediately deleted from the app, and its users can be banned outright. We recently saw an example of this type of extreme censorship when China pressured Blizzard Entertainment to ban a Hearthstone player and two streamers for their support of the Hong Kong protests.

Simply put, China is extremely aggressive about its censorship, and will even attempt to censor people outside of its borders who display any dissatisfaction with the Communist Party. Another threat that TikTok poses is the collection of data on the American people themselves, which Beijing can then use to make more targeted content to attempt to influence the American population. Given the popularity of the app, Washington fears that TikTok or other Chinese social media apps like it could turn into disinformation outlets feeding a steady stream of pro-Chinese communist propaganda.

Why is TikTok Under Investigation?

Numerous American congressmen are even now calling for investigations into the app, and the Department of Defense is conducting a counter-intelligence review of Chinese actions involving the app. The US government is now looking at a range of options to combat Chinese influence through TikTok. Those options begin with auditing the company’s data practices, so that the US government can find out how data on its users is itself used, and to who it goes to. With the Chinese government frequently installing government minders in all of its international companies, there is no such thing as a free Chinese market. Instead, China considers its market as a tool of its foreign policy, and uses government minders embedded within public companies to shape company policy in a pro-Beijing manner that furthers Chinese interests globally. If the US government discovers that TikTok’s data is being shared with the Chinese government, it can then take major steps to shut the app down.

Likely though the American government will simply force the sale of the American side of ByteDance’s business to a non-Chinese company which has been vetted as free of Chinese government influence. While this won’t shut down TikTok on the whole, it will severely curtail the influence that China has over the world, and American users of the app. In a worst case scenario, the US government may simply ban the app outright, although this could cause a massive backlash from its many users. Unlike in China, American users of the app are allowed to protest publicly the actions of their government, even if that includes banning a Chinese-controlled propaganda tool, and there’s a fair bit of irony there. Only time will tell what ultimately happens with TikTok, or other future Chinese apps.

As China’s aggression across the South East Pacific grows and it continues to bully its neighbors for access to their rich mineral, oil and fish reserves across the South China Sea, this is not the first, nor the last confrontation between the Chinese communist party and the American government.

FILE PHOTO: A man holding a phone walks past a sign of Chinese company ByteDance’s app TikTok, known locally as Douyin, at the International Artificial Products Expo in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China October 18, 2019. Picture taken October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT/File Photo

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