Opinion | US TikTok hysteria pushes key questions about the app to the margins

Opinion | US TikTok hysteria pushes key questions about the app to the margins

Opinion | US TikTok hysteria pushes key questions about the app to the margins

As we wait to see whether the Senate will do the same, we’re treated to the full spectrum of hypocrisy that the “China threat” induces in American politicians.

Let’s examine this starting at the top, with US President Joe Biden, who has said he would sign the TikTok bill if the Senate passes the measure.

Knowing how much ammunition a TikTok account would give Republicans, Biden’s team initially worked with Democrat-friendly, young influencers to push the president’s message on the platform rather than engaging on it directly. But with polls showing Biden’s advanced age to be a serious liability among voters, the campaign let loose with a TikTok campaign to connect more directly to a younger demographic.
TikTok fans gather in Washington, DC on March 13 as the US House of Representatives passes a bill that would ban the popular video app if its China-based owner, ByteDance, does not sell. Photo: AP
If Biden is waiting, pen in hand, to push TikTok out of the American market because of its alleged China-related national security threat, he should not be using the app to campaign.
Donald Trump’s position on TikTok is as untethered to principles as anything we might expect from someone who accuses Biden’s son of profiting from the president’s position in government while his own son-in-law’s business landed billions from Saudi Arabia just months after Trump left office.

The only TikTok story bigger than the House vote was the former president’s defence of TikTok on the grounds that “There are a lot of young kids … who will go crazy without it”.

Is Trump’s public U-turn related to his recent meeting with a billionaire Republican megadonor deeply invested in TikTok’s parent company? This is only as likely as the connection between Trump’s dealings with the Saudi government while he was in office and the billions that Riyadh gave Jared Kushner to manage.

Surely, the Senate’s most strident China hawks would blast any politician who would put American kids’ thirst for TikTok ephemera, driven by an algorithm developed in China, over national security.

US Senator Rick Scott speaks during a press conference for his re-election campaign in Washington, DC on March 5. Scott is being challenged by former Democratic Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Photo: Reuters
Enter Florida Senator Rick Scott, one of the Republican Party’s most strident anti-China voices. In a staggering misdirection of his ire, his office took aim at Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell with an official statement in support of the bill for her “habit of standing with dictators and oppressive regimes”, backed up by the fact that she has a TikTok account.
This habit that Scott accuses Mucarsel-Powell of is essentially Trump’s foreign policy, as we saw in his failure to publicly condemn Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman after the US Central Intelligence Agency determined that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Perhaps it’s the algorithms of TikTok and other addictive social media apps that allow for such an absence of reason and common ground in American political discourse and therefore time to do something about it before the divisiveness turns into civil war. Democrats and Republicans could start by insisting on consistency when it comes to China.

When US politicians succumb to China bashing, America pays the price

In the meantime, American supporters of the TikTok bill need to ask themselves how an algorithm developed in China came to dominate the country’s social media landscape, a question that is getting lost in the political slugfest surrounding the app.

All of the above points to a running theme in the geostrategic competition between the two countries: Despite the drawbacks of China’s highly centralised political structure, where allegiance to the Communist Party trumps other considerations, the country manages to forge ahead technologically while America tears itself apart.

Robert Delaney is the Post’s North America bureau chief

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