Once More With Feeling: Banning TikTok Is Unconstitutional & Won’t Do Shit To Deal With Any Actual Threats
Over the last few days, we’ve had a few posts about the latest attempt to ban TikTok in the US (and to people who say it’s only a divestiture bill: there is a ban in the language of the bill if Byt…

As you'd expect from Masnick, he makes a compelling counter-argument to all the messaging calling for a "ban" (read: forced-divestiture) of TikTok. But I believe he's far too focused on a few particularly idealistic arguments here. First:

People keep saying “but they do the same to us.” That’s no excuse. We shouldn’t take a page from the Chinese censorship playbook and basically give them the moral high ground, combined with the ability to point to this move as justification for the shenanigans they’ve pulled in banning US companies from China.

In other words, we shouldn't resort to tit-for-tat (tik-for-tok?) retaliation because we're the U.S. and we're better than that. It's a nice sentiment, of course, but it too heavily discounts the actual issue here. Yes, China bans all U.S. social media apps (and many other services). And they may even do so with the explanation that they don't want American "propaganda" infiltrating their country. But the reality is that this U.S. ban of TikTok is about the things China has proven to do time and again with regard to companies they control.

You can argue if the U.S. does some of the same things in "softer" ways, but there's no arguing that it's a different situation. And you can also argue that China hasn't yet done any of this with TikTok. And, sure. But they also hadn't done it yet with a number of other companies, before they did. It's a very hard argument to make because it presupposes a future shift in behavior. But you simply need to acknowledge the very real history here. And acknowledge that isn't all in a vacuum. This is about a platform which China can control if and when it wants to and our current and future relationship with that country.

To date no one has shown an actual evidence of TikTok being dangerous. Instead, all that people will tell me is that there was some sort of classified briefing about it. From Rep. Jacobs’ statement we see that she was able to see that classified intel, and did not find it convincing at all.

Again, we all get this argument. But it's irrelevant here just given the past pattern of behavior. Nothing is a problem until it is. And it has proven to be time and time again. The stakes are simply too high here to downplay this concern in such a way.

Meanwhile, there’s little to no evidence that China is “manipulating” sentiment with TikTok, and there’s even less evidence that it would be effective if they were trying to do so. Public sentiment in the US regarding China is reaching record lows, with the vast majority of Americans reasonably concerned about China’s role in the world. So if China is using TikTok to propagandize to Americans, it’s doing a shitty job of it.

To beat the dead horse: this is not about what China has or hasn't done with TikTok in the past. This is solely about what it could do and has done with other companies. We all hope the fear is unfounded. But again, there's too much history and too much at stake.

Again, we can pass data protection laws if we’re afraid of how the data is going to be used, because China doesn’t need TikTok to get that data. And we can counter Chinese propaganda. But part of doing so has to be not hiding it and acting like it’s so powerful that Americans are powerless against it. You counter it by showing how freedom can resist such efforts at manipulation.

This is Masnick's strongest point, but also his most naive. Again, there is a reality of a situation, right now. There are perhaps other, more ideal ways to solve for this situation in the future, but such changes too heavily discount a very real, real-time network in operation with 150M+ U.S. active eyeballs. Sure, China can and will manipulate data elsewhere. That doesn't change the fact of this matter.

Masnick very clearly cares about the precedent that would be set here – i.e. that the government stepping in to do this once will open the door for future governments to do this again and again – and we all should worry about such things, of course. But we can worry about and debate that while also acknowledging this unique and problematic situation right now.

For the record, I don't think this ban/divestiture will happen. I think the Senate will stall the bill. But I think that will be a mistake even if it (truly, hopefully) doesn't end up playing out as a mistake. I highly recommend Derek Thompson's quick Plain English podcast on the matter today which more succinctly says what I'm trying to above. To sum it up, simply: It's China, stupid.

‎Plain English with Derek Thompson: Should the U.S. Ban TikTok? on Apple Podcasts
‎Show Plain English with Derek Thompson, Ep Should the U.S. Ban TikTok? - Mar 19, 2024