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Snippet: How TikTok Failed to Make the Case For Itself ☇

Shared on March 24, 2023

Casey Newton for Platformer:

It is a ritual previously endured by Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Sundar Pichai, and Jack Dorsey, among others. And while each of them faced withering questions, in the end withering questions is all that Congress really gave them. Hearings like these are often framed as a precursor to stringent regulation, but in the United States they are a substitute for them. Congress yells at social media companies — posting clips of their sickest burns on the very companies they criticize — and then fails to pass a single piece of legislation.

TikTok’s hearing might have gone this way, too, were it not for one overarching, bipartisan concern: that the company’s owner, ByteDance, might be forced by the Chinese government to surveil Americans or seek to influence them by promoting pro-China or anti-US content.

I watched a bit of the hearings today and it seemed that no matter what TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew would have said, the outcome would have been the same. The frustrating part to me is the lack of any sort of technological understanding or knowledge demonstrated by so many members of Congress—they’re so focused on fear and “what about the kids?” They didn’t even try to hide the fact that their minds were made up before this started either. There’s also the regular dismissal that it’s a nonsensical “dancing app” that sometimes has dangerous challenges—as though those are the only kinds of content on there:

Finally, TikTok never really got older people to use it. In particular, it struggled to get members of Congress to use it. The Post reported that just one member of today’s committee — Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) — has an active, verified TikTok account. (Two others appear to have deleted theirs.)

It’s easy to ban an app you never use, particularly when you can do it in the name of national security. I suspect that were Facebook or Twitter owned by a Chinese company, Congress would feel much more motivated to find a solution that let them continuing to use their accounts for promotion and fundraising.

This is my biggest gripe of anyone dismissing TikTok without actually using it—there’s a lot of stupid stuff on there (it is on the Internet, after all), but there’s also a lot of great content and if we’re concerned about addictiveness, misinformation, or vacuuming up data about users, let’s also look at Meta, Twitter, and others, too. If not, Congress is just headed further into dangerous, ignorant territory.

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