When Mark Zuckerberg announced Wednesday that Facebook lost daily users for the first time in its 18-year history last quarter, he blamed TikTok. And why not him? The young platform is both the most downloaded application and the most visited website in the world. It’s addictive and profitable, which also makes TikTok a tool for cultural control.
Beijing understands this, which is why the app’s Chinese counterpart, Douyin, is handled very differently by ByteDance. Indeed, the Chinese government recently acquired a 1% stake and a seat on the board of one of the Beijing-based company’s domestic subsidiaries.
Andrew Schulz explained it perfectly in a clip he posted on Instagram this week.
“You don’t have to crush an opposing nation to convince them to crush,” Schulz wrote in the caption. If China seeks to undermine the power of the United States, controlling the algorithms that captivate its children is not a bad place to start.
If you are browsing this BuzzFeed’s roundup of top trends on TikTok in 2021, you’ll find explicit dances, songs, and gender changes alongside adorable dogs and easy recipes. In 2020, seventeen included the “WAP” dance on its roundup of the app’s most popular trends, meaning millions of American kids were watching and making video after video of a song on “wet ass p-ssy.”
It is of course true that American culture decays on its own. But it doesn’t help that a company based and legally under Chinese control is responsible for a place where our children spend hours a day talking about politics, family life and culture. It would be like Moscow owning our movie studios during the Cold War, only worse because TikTok is ubiquitous in every teenager’s pocket.
TikTok is known for its sophisticated algorithm, which, according to a New York Times expert, “tries to make people addicted rather than giving them what they really want.” There is growing evidence that TikTok has negative health effects on users, which you can read more about here. Beijing appears to understand this as the government is taking steps to prevent the app from becoming addictive for its own users.
In China, Douyin is subject to government control intended to make the app a force for cultural good and a vehicle for propaganda. Users under the age of 14 can only access the app at certain times of the day for a limited period and are offered “interesting popular science experiments, exhibits in museums and galleries, beautiful landscapes to across the country, explanations of historical knowledge, etc. ”
All users are subject to mandatory five-second breaks after spending a certain amount of time on the app, during which they receive videos telling them to “hang up the phone”, “go to bed”, and “work.” tomorrow”. “The app censors political content that crosses Beijing’s borders. He was fined last year for posting “obscene, pornographic and vulgar” content.
None of this is to say that the US government should start restricting free expression on TikTok. I think there’s a good argument to be made that social media is a public health emergency and requires more transparency. The thing is, ByteDance has a government-controlled app that seeks to undermine us, and that app is designed to be less harmful than the one being peddled in America.
We can talk about the kind of government action this might warrant, but it should immediately change the way we approach TikTok. Beijing knows the app can stir up discord and worsen the health of our teens. Why would we gladly give this tool to an opposition government? (That’s not even to get into potential national security issues.)
The simple answer is because we are addicted.
Emily Jashinsky is a culture editor at The Federalist. She previously covered politics as a commentator for the Washington Examiner. Prior to joining the Examiner, Emily was the spokesperson for the Young America’s Foundation. She has interviewed leading politicians and entertainers and regularly appeared as a guest on major television news programs including “Fox News Sunday”, “Media Buzz” and “The McLaughlin Group”. His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Real Clear Politics, and more. Emily is also Director of the National Journalism Center and Visiting Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. Originally from Wisconsin, she is a graduate of George Washington University.