The fate of the platform remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: banning it would upturn fundamental principles of democracy.

The fate of the platform remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: banning it would upturn fundamental principles of democracy.

On Friday, the President of the United States declared that he intends to ban a vibrant source of American speech. And that he intends to eliminate competition in a giant industry that doesnt have nearly enough. Its a rare feat to upturn two such fundamental democratic valuesfree speech and free marketsat the same time.
TikToks fate in the US remains uncertain. Trumps declarations could be part of a negotiating strategy, with the intended goal of getting Bytedance, TikToks Chinese parent company, removed entirely from the platforms ownership. Microsoft may then swoop in. Trumps proposed executive order could face legal review, and TikTok has vowed that its not planning on going anywhere. But regardless of how this all shakes out, the presidents declaration stinks of rank hypocrisy.
Nicholas Thompson (@nxthompson is the editor-in-chief of WIRED.
Its certainly true that all Chinese companies must play footsie with the state, sharing data if and when the ruling Communist Party demands it. (TikTok has consistently denied that it has done so.) Its true, too, that the Chinese government of Xi Jinping does not wish the United States well, and that its hacking and espionage operations have deep and malevolent roots. Its true that smart people have raised valid concerns about TikToks security: any company that copies what you put on your clipboard is one that deserves very little trust. But thats a reason to ban the app on the phones of American soldiers and diplomats, and its reason to warn others about the risks. Its an argument, too, that US data privacy laws are woefully inadequate to protect people from data over-reaches by any app, regardless of the country of origin. But the public evidence that TikTok is a fundamental, and unique, threat to US security is simply not there.
TikTok, however, is a threat to Facebook: Its a legitimate competitor that has been able to thrive without being captured or killed. During the antitrust hearings on Wednesday, one of Congresss central critiques was that Facebook uses all the secret information it gathers to sniff out its nascent opposition. Will [Zuckerberg] go into destroy mode if I say no? Instagram founder Kevin Systrom asked one of his board members, Matt Cohler, while discussing a potential Facebook acquisition of his company. Probably, came the reply, according to a memo released during the hearings.
Instagram and Whatsapp were gobbled by Facebook and Snapchat was hobbled. But TikTok has survived Facebooks destroy mode. The US company didnt recognize its growth, and misunderstood its genius. By the time Facebook first tried desperately to copy and clone, it was too late. But now, with Trumps aggressive stance, Facebook has been given a gift from above. Its new TikTok twin, Instagrams Reels, launches soon. Without TikTok, the road to its success would be more open and clear.
There has been a certain amount of conspiratorial talk about Trump and Zuckerberg since the two had dinner last November: theorizing perhaps that they reached some sort of tacit agreement that Zuckerberg would allow Trump to use the platform as he saw fit, and Trump would help Zuckerberg in other ways? Ive always doubted that there was anything explicit. But powerful diplomacy doesnt work that way. It happens through subtle signals, winks, and nods. And I doubt that Zuckerbergs kindness toward the White House didnt weigh somewhat in Trumps mind.
But this of course just lays bare the hypocrisy in Trumps move. Its a move against free speech and, to the extent that Facebook has been gentle on the president, its because of Zuckerbergs defense of that fundamental right. And if one is an avid believer in free speech, how can one even threaten the death penalty for a social media platforrm? TikTok is full of garbage and sometimes hate. But its free and open, even in ways that other platforms arent. Conservative critics who rail about Twitters lack of respect for the First Amendment are often just working the refs. But many are sincere. I am eager to see how they respond to the news of today. (I reached out to the White House for comment and will update if I am able to speak with them.)

Share