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There are two common ways to think about TikTok. On one hand, TikTok is just a popular social media app used by teens and young adults to share viral dance videos and funny memes. On the other hand, TikTok is a subversive app under the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with the goal, quite simply, of wrecking our increasingly fragile democracy and imperiling America’s national security.
“Whoa… Wait a second,” you’re probably thinking. How could a social media app have two such radically different interpretations? The answer, quite simply, is that TIkTok might just be the type of problem that’s hidden in plain sight. Since celebrities, athletes, late-night comedians, and popular influencers are using TikTok, it might seem relatively harmless. But just dig below the surface a bit, and you might be surprise at what you find.
A social media app no longer in the interests of America
In a recent op-ed piece, U.S. congressman Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin) laid out the worst-case scenario for TikTok. He called the app “digital fentanyl made in China,” and clearly explained why he thought it was wrecking American democracy.
TikTok, said Gallagher, was not just spying on our kids and conducting a massive surveillance operation on American society. It was also, he said, subverting our very values and beliefs by challenging our view of the world and placing a Chinese filter on just about any event that happens. For example, you won’t easily find any videos on TikTok that are critical of China’s foreign policy in places like Tibet or Taiwan. You won’t find any videos that take issue with the CCP. All of that has been “cleaned up” by the Chinese authorities who run the app.
Even worse, you’ll often find videos that are deeply critical of America, and what it stands for. A classic example here is the viral Osama Bin Laden “Letter to America” video trend on TikTok. In the videos, TikTok users discuss the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and how maybe America deserved to be attacked on that day. And they often described Osama Bin Laden – the notorious arch-enemy of America – as a rational guy who was making some very cogent arguments. Needless to say, once Fox News found out about this viral trend, it became headline news because it was the perfect example of how America seems to be destroying itself from the inside.
Keep in mind, the Chinese company behind TikTok has created a safer, more sanitized version of the app (called “Douyin”) for Chinese social media users. Instead of pushing harmful viral trends, it pushes science and learning. And the Chinese government, realizing how enormously addictive TikTok could become for many users, has suggested a strict limit of 40 minutes per day on TikTok usage.
Time to take action?
At the very end of the op-ed, Congressman Gallagher suggests that, “It’s time to take action… it’s time to ban TikTok.” And, certainly, if even half of what he thinks is true, then there’s a strong case to be made for banning TikTok. At the end of the day, TikTok was created by a company with known ties and affiliations to the CCP. And, it has a long track record of bending to the needs and concerns of the Chinese state. Thus, whatever firewalls that TikTok says it has put in place (such as the use of servers based in America), they probably are not enough.
As a parent, now is the time to start putting limits on the time your kids spend on TikTok. It might be asking a lot to ban the app entirely from your household, but at least follow the same 40-minute rule they use in China. If your teens and young kids spend hours a day on the app, then you will have only yourself to blame if they end up as radicalized youth who hate America.