Recently, the Presidential Administration publicly stated its intention of banning apps such as TikTok that have come from Chinese developers with loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.
This has raised the question whether these apps are compromising national security. In short, they are doing something much worse.
Social media time and time again has been caught in the middle of the new aged cyberwar of information. It was not long ago when Facebook was accused of fostering and spreading false information during a crucial time in American politics, and China is cashing in on this new way to sweep up Western consumers into its ever-expanding sphere of influence.
What is unique about the TikTok situation is its cultural relevance to American teens. The biggest case in defense of TikTok is that it is a hub of creativity and entertainment geared towards the younger generations. Unfortunately, this is a fallacy the Chinese government would like us to believe.
By its very nature, TikTok is an app built around unoriginal, repetitive and generally shameful content. There are exceptions of creative users on the platform with strikingly original videos, but TikTok is not the only video publishing app around, so arguing against the ban for the sake of its scarce supply of original content is not a strong enough point. With or without TikTok, people will express their creativity one way or another.
The truth is TikTok is not the rallying point for young voices we would like to think it is. It is, in reality, yet another tool for Beijing to use as leverage in the ongoing cold war of ideology between China and the West.
China exports its censorship and political narratives almost as much as it exports off-brand flip-flops. With so much dependence on Chinese manufacturing and consumption the West has been making countless sacrifices to appease the People’s Republic, which has come at a cost to democratic movements world-wide.
Every now and then democracy becomes a thorn in the side of the Chinese government like the incident at Tiananmen square, Taiwan’s fight for independence and most recently the Hong Kong protests, and it has become clear that supporting Chinese business means funding suppression of democracy. The United States cannot claim to be an advocate for global democracy when it owes so much to a one-party state which suppresses democracy wherever it can.
The Chinese government has had too much control in the lives of American consumers for too long, and now that influence is taking shape online, and it is influencing American youth which, by extension, compromises America’s future. The president has stated that banning TikTok would protect America’s national security interests, but it would, more importantly, chip away at China’s international influence.
Dependence on Chinese products, whether it be in the department store or the app store, is a habit that America must collectively break for our own interests as well as the interest of the millions of people struggling under the Chinese Communist Party’s thumb. The victory would be small in the battlefield of national security but huge in the battlefield of ideology.