In unprecedented times and uncertainty, the social media giant Tiktok is servicing the distraction to the masses to get them through these pandemic times. Lately though it has moved from distraction to more of a political tool of political polarization. Tiktok is the Newspeak from 1984 or the soma from the book Brave New World. People are getting distracted but at the same time is getting brainwashed with all these political propagandas.
Tiktok has become a “didactic tool” to get information when it comes to the coming elections, politics, and news going on in the world. The fact that the app contains more than 100 million U.S users leads to three main kinds of risks: user data falling into Chinese government or other hostile hands, Chinese propaganda and censorship efforts penetrating U.S society, and threats to national security as US-China ultimately grows into a Cold War.
Each of the risks is reality, but each is in reality of the dangers of using any social media app. A focus on Tiktok alone will do little to solve the actuality of the problem. No one should fear that an app that is based in China will share all the private data stored in the application. Tiktok is a stepping stone to addressing the risks that are mentioned above.
The company may be doing its due diligence to limit such actions that the Chinese government can do it is still a possibility. The possibility that they could lean on executives and engineers in China to gain access. And they could do it through legal requirements to help the government with national security matters, through extralegal pressure or even through infiltration.
Honest people cannot be naïve the volumes of data that Tiktok has in its control; let alone the likelihood that the data could end up in the wrong hands. The possibility is too high.
What if, then, as condition of doing business in the United States, all social media companies were required to cut down on unnecessary data collection and held to account for how it is stored and used?
Tiktok is at risk since the Chinese government is communist and the company Bytedance resides in China. Tiktok could censor ideas critical of the Communist Party or even try to affect how people vote in the upcoming elections. Most social media platforms that we use for our everyday use deliver content to its users through an opaque algorithm, despite numerous computer science efforts, it’s hard to find accountability for what contents get delivered to whom. Russia government has a long history of manipulating platforms through coordinated posting by inauthentic accounts or simply placing ads in elections for local government in Russia. China is most likely to do this in Tawian a country in which China wants to invade.
(Remember the last time a country invaded another country in 1939? Germany invaded Poland history lesson for everyone. We all knew the outcome for that.) Politically driven platform manipulation is hard to assess in the everyday life of the 21st century. It also does not require behind the scenes control of the platform.
The question is:
What if as condition of doing business in the United States, social media companies were required to meet stringent standards of transparency and accountability when it comes to activity affecting the sanctity of the democratic process or censoring political content?
Tiktok is a threat to national security. Think about it. Though how can an app be a threat to national security? Tiktok and many other apps were recently shown to be accessing information through the IOS platform user’s clipboards- a practice that the company stated was designed to detect spam and that it has since corrected. If you happen to be a top U.S national security official, accidental, or intentional leaks of information would totally be possible. The US military has told people not to use the app to further the damage if any leaks have happened with the military service. Yet this kind of hypothetical intelligence information would be more effective than ever. To address national security risks from widespread data collection and cybersecurity vulnerabilities, what if, as a condition of doing business in the United States, apps and app stores were required to meet universal security standards to protect user data and whether or not you candle handle these secrets?
The problem with the app is that it only addresses part of the problem that the government is finally looking at the bigger picture. Only a universal set of enforced rules for the platforms- and the companies behind them that trade in data and interpolated insights about their users- can address legitimate government security concerns and give users confidence that their online lives are free from harmful snooping or manipulation through opaque algorithms. And..
BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU!
(Big Brother is ourselves; each one of us watching each other)