If TikTok is blocked, we might become as dumb as the congressmen trying to ban it

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — If you’re going to police information sources, shouldn’t you at least be, uh, informed? “Does TikTok access the home Wi-Fi network?” asked Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) of TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew at a congressional hearing last month. Which is kind of like asking if your car accesses tires to drive. “Only if the user turns on the Wi-Fi,” replied the head of the China-headquartered online application, now the most popular in the world and surpassing US-based Facebook. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) suggested that any Chinese citizen has an obligation to report data and information to the Chinese government — including the popular Chinese app’s CEO, to which Chew replied, “I’m from Singapore.”

To be as uninformed and out of touch as many of these lawmakers were, you’d have to have a very limited exposure to information and sources, which is exactly what they’re fighting to impose on everyone else. All under the guise of protecting "national security".

The objective of the hearing seemed to be to incite sufficient moral panic to justify a new bipartisan law — Bill 686 — which would allow the government to ban various types of software of hardware from the U.S. market that would be considered “an undue or unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States or the security and safety of US persons” by virtue of being linked to a “foreign adversary” designated by the U.S. government — the most obvious being China or Russia. This would include gaming software, social media apps like TikTok, and messaging or payment apps.

Enforced by federal law enforcement agencies, the penalties would include criminal penalties of up to 20 years in prison or a $1 million fine.

Concern immediately erupted online as to whether an individual using a VPN (virtual private network) application to circumvent such a ban would be subjected to these penalties. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said that wouldn’t be the case. So one might imagine, then, that the apps and their updates would simply be banned from Apple and Google stores — over which the U.S. government has control and jurisdiction — making their use virtually impossible.

And all this for what, exactly? Much was made during the hearings about the kind of content served on TikTok to kids, as though China is somehow responsible for the dumbing down of Western society. TikTok, as a commercial enterprise, serves you more of what you like, so the worst that it can do if you’re dumb is to maintain your idiocy at about the same level. Besides, if some genius kid suddenly seems like he’s seeping IQ points from his ears as a result of using a foreign app, then maybe it should ultimately be the parents’ responsibility to notice and try some actual parenting.

Another line of congressional attack focused on potential data collection of US users by China. US Big Tech routinely collects user data and has cooperated with US authorities. An entire congressional hearing has just taken place on the “weaponization” of the US federal government against certain US citizens via the social media app, Twitter.

Wouldn’t it be more worrisome to have one’s data potentially targeted by one’s own authorities, who have jurisdiction, rather than by some country on the other side of the planet?

Attacking TikTok is all the rage right now in Western democracies, though. Norway’s ammunition company, Nammo – one of Europe’s largest – is even arguing that it won’t be able to expand its operations to produce more ammo to help Ukraine fight Russia because a TikTok data center is sucking up all the electricity.

“We are concerned because we see our future growth is challenged by the storage of cat videos," its CEO, Morten Brandtzæg, told the Financial Times.

Sounds like TikTok is now even being set up to take the blame for Ukraine’s future battlefield performance.

Western countries have taken to banning the app on lawmakers’ phones, even though a previous National Security Agency spying scandal targeting German officials exposed that Washington doesn’t need social media to spy on foreign lawmakers — so it’s highly unlikely that any other country would, either.

More likely, this is all just about Washington wanting to maintain control over its own collection, subversion, and censorship efforts, as well as the economic exploitation of data by its own tech companies over which they maintain control. TikTok is where users can learn directly from one another without government interference. It’s much harder to control narratives when they’re being propagated on a platform outside of your own government’s jurisdiction. Lawmakers have previously been far too quick to characterize – and censor – information or analysis they simply don’t like as “misinformation." Judging by the technological ignorance exhibited by congressmen in the TikTok hearing, the end game seems to be to make the whole country as oblivious as them.