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Why is TikTok being targeted by (some) Americans?

Not every American, of course, just a few Republican congressmen (and women).

Diane Hall


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Recently, the CEO of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew, was hauled into a hearing where he faced some inane questions from the committee he faced. 

Now, I get that some older people (and the occasional younger one) may not be able to grasp basic technology. This is not why the hearing has been widely ridiculed for its line of questioning. What I really don’t understand is, if you don’t understand something, why not present an expert that does? Why show yourselves up to the world and make a mockery of the points you’re attempting to make?

Tiktok being used

As a frequent TikTok user, I’ve enjoyed the various videos and skits that have done the rounds following the event. Just the images of Chew’s face were enough to cherish and chortle at, so incredulous was he that he was being asked, and accused of, such ridiculous things—the vast majority of which came from a lack of understanding by the people in congress.

The whole hearing was so absurd, and the venom for TikTok was so apparent, that it got me thinking: why do some Americans hate TikTok?

For anyone who doesn’t know (and there may be some amongst us who don’t) TikTok is a social media platform that is extremely popular amongst young people globally. And it’s now attracting older demographics, too. The app, which allows users to create and share short videos, has over 1 billion active users worldwide. 

Despite its rising popularity and growing user numbers, in recent years, some Americans have grown increasingly wary of TikTok. The app has faced numerous controversies, including data privacy concerns, security threats, and allegations of censorship. 

In 2020, the United States government alleged that TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, was a national security threat. The government claimed that the app collects massive amounts of user data that it shares with the Chinese government. The Trump administration even attempted to ban the app in the United States, claiming that national security was at risk. Although the ban was temporarily blocked by the courts, the U.S. government ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok's operations in the United States or face a complete ban. This action raised concerns among Americans about the app's data privacy policies and who has access to its user data. Cybersecurity experts discovered that TikTok was able to collect user data through a vulnerability in its software. The data included users’ phone numbers, device information and locations. This revelation raised concerns about the app's potential use for espionage or cyberattacks. 

The U.S. government also expressed concerns about TikTok's potential ability to spread misinformation and propaganda, which they claimed occurred during the 2020 presidential election. The accusation of censorship concerns TikTok’s content moderation policies. In 2019, the app faced criticism for censoring content surrounding the protests in Hong Kong. Users reported that videos with hashtags such as #HongKong and #protest did not appear on the app's ‘For You’ page, which is the main area from which users can view trending videos. TikTok later apologised and blamed the alleged censorship on a technical glitch. However, these concerns continue to persist, particularly as the app expands further.

These issues have brought significant implications. The U.S. government's actions forced ByteDance to sell TikTok's U.S. operations to a consortium led by Oracle and Walmart. The sale was aimed at addressing the government's concerns about data privacy and security. The new owners of TikTok's U.S. operations promised to address these concerns by moving user data to a cloud provider in the United States and implementing robust security measures.

TikTok logo

The controversy around TikTok has purportedly led to a decrease in the app's popularity in the United States. A survey conducted by Morning Consult in 2020 found that 55% of Americans had a negative view of TikTok. The wariness of Americans towards TikTok has also led to calls for more stringent regulations on social media companies to protect user privacy and prevent foreign interference in elections. It seems unfair that they’re jumping on this issue in relation to TikTok, when Facebook was forced to pay $725 million to settle a private class-action lawsuit surrounding their part in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which concerned political influencing. What’s that saying…one rule for one, one for another?

The wariness of Americans towards TikTok has also led to the emergence of alternative social media platforms, such as Triller and Byte. These platforms, apparently, have more robust privacy policies and security measures. Triller, for example, promises not to sell user data to third parties or use it for targeted advertising. These alternative platforms have gained some traction, particularly amongst users who are wary of TikTok's data privacy policies and security threats.

Given that I’ve never even heard of Triller or Byte (I had to Google what they were), I don’t think TikTok needs to be too worried that these social media platforms will take their crown. I also suspect that the Americans’ attack against TikTok is as much about money and them not being able to control or profit from it than any concern they have over its privacy and security issues.  

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