I admit I’m predisposed to liking most things Chinese, despite a lot of evidence that I should not. I grew up in a multicultural neighborhood filled with excellent Chinese restaurants; if you’ve ever seen Awkwafina’s hilarious semi-autobiographical Comedy Central NORA FROM QUEENS, know that filmed it largely in my area (in fact, her grandparents owned one of the best ones in the area, LUM’S.). Our Sunday staple was within walking (well, in my family’s case, waddling distance) from our apartment, and when I was home from college the owner and his daughter would celebrate, knowing full well their profit margin was about to increase. They’d actually give us extra barbecue roast pork spare ribs and fortune cookies, exuberantly smiling and showering us with “Yay! Junior’s back!!!”. Junior eventually reached 280 pounds largely on the benefit of their largesse, and Mom never lived to see her grandchildren (although two packs of Marlboro 100s a day for four decades didn’t help, either).
So I probably should be one of those who’s leery of the intentions of Chinese businesses, given how they impacted the lives of myself and my family. But, you know, I loved those spare ribs, and for my dad, it was practically the only thing he’d eat, and he devoured them with a relish seldom seen outside of a deli. I have nothing but warm memories, especailly since that particular place is long gone.
I thought about this inconsistency watching the testimony of Tik Tok CEO Shou Zi Chew last week in front of Congress, who hauled him in to address their grave concerns that the platform is a tool for the Xi regime to gain access to the homes and minds of unsuspecting Americans and extract personal information and be able to weaponize their ideologies, and those who endorse them, to influence Americans’ lives (and, possibly, even elections). Furthering this is a climate where parents are, with justification, believing that the lives and minds of their children are being forever manipuated and damaged, contributing to poor self-esteem, isolation and, in more tragic cases, suicides and increased ideation. And given that Tik Tok is to Generation Z THE social media platform, government officials feel especially justified in forcing the sale of Tik Tok, ideally to American interests, and are threatening the platform with an outright ban in the U.S. Already, the Biden administration is banning its availability on government-issued computers and devices, fearing data compromises that could somehow reach government officials and be used against us.
Ideological conflict is essentially what has ruled our lives for the last seven years, and reached new levels of importance when most of us were locked up during the pandemic’s earliest days, and parents finally had the bandwidth to see exactly what and how their children were socializing. There’s intense pressure for the U.S. government to take action against platforms and somehow save the souls of our children.
Most of that, however, is anecdotal experience, and it’s even truer in the lives of many of the dozens of politicians who challenged Shou’s every word last week. Many are elderly and have little actual experience with Tik Tok, or, for that matter, social media; those that are more in the sweet age spot spend a substantial amount of time away from home and glean what they do from either remote monitoring of their children’s accounts or their perception of their kids’ (and their constituents’ kids)’ experiences.
I’ve always believed that anecdotal experience should be a guidepost, not a determinant, for what should and should not be done. I’ve passionately believed that actual facts should speak volumes.
To his credit, Shou, like a good CEO should, faced those poiiticans last week armed with dozens of them, not to mention a couple of hundred of the 150 million estimated U.S. platform users. As (tellingly) Scott Wong of NBC News reported prior to last Thursday’s session, Shou’s prepared statements were exceptionally compelling:
Chew will note in his appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the average TikTok user is now well past college age. Many of those users in the U.S., he will say, are artists, musicians, chefs and other creators, as well as small-business owners, in a clear appeal to Republican members of the panel.
Although some people may still think of TikTok as a dancing app for teenagers, the reality is that our platform and our community have become so much more for so many,” Chew will testify.
“TikTok has empowered millions of Americans to express their voices in their own authentic way and has provided a global stage for their creativity in a way that cannot be replicated on any other platform or in any other medium.”
And DemandSage’s Daniel Ruby cites no less than three dozen other actual statistics to underscore Shou’s words. Here’s the first seven:
- TikTok has over 1.53 billion users as of 2023. 1 billion out of those are monthly active users.
- TikTok is used by 30.25% of the world’s internet users.
- Over 3 billion people have downloaded TikTok as of 2023.
- Over 1 billion videos are watched every day on TikTok.
- TikTok is the 6th most popular Social Media in the world.
- In terms of MAUs, TikTok has overtaken Twitter, Telegram, Reddit, Pinterest, and Snapchat.
- Advertisers may reach 885 million users aged 18 and above on TikTok.
I strongly encourage you to read the balance of this work, the link to the full piece is below.
And, as Chuck Todd reminded viewers of yesterday’s MEET THE PRESS, when it does come to political ideology, those with a stated preference among Tik Tok users are ten percentage points more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.
So why in G-d’s name is THIS the issue that is somehow unifying both parties, and, as CNN’s Catherine Thorbecke and Brian Fung recently wrote, ironically becoming a mission statement for the upcoming election cycle?
Nearly two-and-a-half years after the Trump administration threatened to ban TikTok in the United States if it didn’t divest from its Chinese owners, the Biden administration is now doing the same. The ultimatum from the U.S. government represents an apparent escalation in pressure from Washington as more lawmakers once again raise national security concerns about the app. Suddenly, TikTok’s future in the United States appears more uncertain — but this time, it comes after years in which the app has only broadened its reach over American culture.
So the brilliant strategic leadership of Democrats feels that this issue–trying to ban Tik Tok–is where they borrow from the playbook of the very administration they were able to eke out a win against, and who they are desperately trying to keep from coming back, as their supporters believe was already prophesized, and making our country fascist?
Perhaps they think that the actions taken last week in Utah were something to talk about? As NBC’s Ben Goggin reported:
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed two pieces of sweeping social media regulation into law Thursday that require social media companies to get parental consent for minors using their services, making Utah the first state to impose such measures in the U.S.
Versions of the regulations are being considered in four other states and in several federal proposals in Congress.
The new Utah laws — H.B. 311 and S.B. 152 — require that social media companies verify the age of any Utah resident who makes a social media profile and get parental consent for any minor who wishes to make a profile. They also force social media companies to allow parents to access posts and messages from their child’s account.
The laws also prohibit social media companies from displaying ads to minors, showing minor accounts in search results, collecting information about minors, targeting or suggesting content to minors, or knowingly integrating addictive technologies into social media apps used by minors. They also impose a curfew on the use of social media for minors, locking them out of their social media accounts between 10:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. based on the location of a user’s device, unless adjusted with the consent of a parent.
Utah’s laws come amid ongoing debates about the impact of social media on young people’s mental health, a link that is widely theorized but remains the subject of academic study. Mental health issues among young people have been labeled a crisis, with particular concerns about the mental health of young women.
Social media companies have until March 1, 2024, to comply with the laws, at which point they become punishable with potential civil and criminal penalties.
Democrats are up in arms over this outside Utah, and again cite anecdotal evidence to support their opposition. Now, I’m not a parent, and I’m well aware this won’t sit well with users under 18, who represent a highly desirable demographic target and significant revenue opportunties for digital media. But those under 18 can’t vote. And, as Shou himself reminds, at least in Tik Tok’s case, its +50% growth since the pandemic started is being driven by legal adults. Can Meta, Twitter et all say the same?
As long as Tik Tok consents to these kinds of restrictions, I find them no more or less reputable or dangerous than any other social media platform. All indications are they will be happy to do. What have we heard from Elon and the Zuck? Other than how much their stock value has diminished, how they have to let people go, and how they lay blame on everything except their own mismanagement in response to Tik Tok’s growth for that?
And yet, our elected officials feel completely morally and ethically justified in singling out Tik Tok for public shaming, draconian legislation against them specifically, and casting doubt on almost every word that Shou spoke.
Does any Democratic strategist really believe that pissing off potential voters who love Tik Tok, and in thousands of cases rely upon it for their sustinence, will give them a leg up in 2024 politics?
Chinese surveillance? Every social media platform has my data. I get barraged with sponsored ads on American platforms simply when I speak about something, let alone search for it. And unless a giant panda personally shows up at my door with a balloon full of anthrax threatening to pop it unless I declare my loyalty for Communism, I don’t feel any more threatened by Tik Tok than I do by any social media platform. And I have more reason to be concerned with certain pandas than most (though, to be fair, the ones I fear are not Chinese).
All indications are there will be more hearings, more testimonies, and, possibly, more states that will follow Utah’s lead. More bitching and moaning. More rhetoric. And, somehow, the pressure to force Tik Tok out will likely grow, Probably would have nothing to do with the kinds of investments political donors (and family members of politicians) made in American social media platforms that are struggling to maintain their own viability as they lose market share and valuation? Pshaw. Couldn’t be THAT.
But I do get how so many people feel it’s advantageous to blame an entity from CHY-NAH!!! on all of the problems and issues of a generation.
They probably never had a neighborhood restaurant so generous with their barbecue spare ribs or as flattering of those of us who devoured them as I did. If they did, it was probably not Chinese.
Until next time….