👎 Goodbye TikTok
TikTok is a very fun and popular app so naturally let’s just force people to stop using it
Hello! I’ve had a lot of new subscribers recently — thank you for signing up, and I hope you enjoy what’s about to happen to you.
This week was like a pile of weeds that refuse to die 👎. I’m afraid that this issue mostly covers the whole TikTok scare, and absolutely nothing about generative AI this because I am sick to DEATH of hearing about it, sorry. Scroll down for:
TikTok: how dare it be ‘made in China’, literally HOW DARE it.
The Internet Archive, which runs one of the hugest online libraries ever, should not be recognised as a library anymore, apparently
Okay: imagine you are the most powerful nation state in the world. Now imagine that there is an app that none of your citizens invented/built, but many of them enjoy it thoroughly. What do you do? Put a ‘x’ next to the option you agree with most. Here, I’ll help you…
Nothing, seems chill [ ]
BAN IT [❎]
So yes, as you may have heard, the US are coming after TikTok by asking (telling? Forcing??) ByteDance to divest from it, or expect it to be banned outright from US app stores. Now that’s what I call a very big ‘solution’ for an even bigger ‘not a real problem’ — and probably the least reasonable moral panic I’ve seen in a while.
I write these paragraphs on Wednesday, and the CEO of TikTok, Shou Chew, will appear in front of the US congress tomorrow. So far, Shou has posted a friendly little video, talking about how excited he is to have as many as 150 million monthly active American users, and how much he loves them. Of course he loves them — they actively contribute to making him wealthier. But anyway, we will see what comes out of this, and I will write an update on Thursday evening if I have time. The fact that he’s felt the need to post this video must mean that he’s at least a little bit scared.
👩🏫 Right so, what is the US government’s problem with TikTok? Their main concerns are around the only two things that they, apparently, are capable of ‘being concerned’ about: national security, and child safety.
These concerns are either misguided, or complete bullshit: one senator has said that they “don't think we want to have a Chinese-owned company to have that kind of access to not just our kids, our culture.” And the apparent ‘threat to national security’ comes from the perception that TikTok’s powerful recommendation algorithm is being used to spread Chinese propaganda, and that data collected by the app is being shared with the Chinese government.
Even if these concerns were real, banning a single app won’t even come close to addressing them. If TikTok suddenly disappears, children won’t suddenly become ‘safer’: content moderators will still struggle to scrub YouTube of Peppa Pig videos that covertly contain dicks and spliffs, and CSAM will still proliferate through Telegram. Furthermore, without TikTok, the Chinese government will not struggle to get their hands on data about American citizens if they really want it. The politicians who are calling to ban TikTok are the very same ones who refuse to regulate the huge, rancid data brokering market; everyone’s data is for sale literally all the time. TikTok is just one of many sources.
If we didn’t want apps to ‘spy on us’ and ‘influence our behaviours’ then we either need a radical change in how we consume digital products and services — or literally all apps just need to stop existing. The collecting and selling of personal data for financial gains and political influence is completely out of control; the abuse of children both on and offline is a disgusting and urgent problem. But nothing will materially change in either of these areas even if you ban TikTok from the entire planet, let alone one country.
The Biden admin doesn’t really care about any of these issues. If they did, they would create actual data privacy policies and robust, enforceable regulations — but they won’t. They can’t! They’re too inept, fearful, and racist. Their agenda is embarrassingly clear: this is less about preventing the spread of Chinese propaganda to American citizens, and more about turbo-charging American propaganda. The US want to understand/control the recommendation algorithm so they can use it themselves. I mean, can you blame them? It’s very very good.
Quick, let’s check-in with reality before we lose ourselves: Besides the fact that it was made in China (how dare it be made in China!), is TikTok really any different to any other big global social media? Surely it can be both of these things at once:
A disgusting tumour of slimy tendrils yanking at our wants and desires, and intrusively profiting from our undivided attention
A very fun place to post and watch videos, learn about new music, and wonder at the mastery of creatively recycled trends
Writing all this is really hard and time-consuming. Please make it better by donating money to me, thank you :)
📅 And now, it’s Thursday: All complaints about TikTok coming out of the US congress at the moment can be applied to American social media companies. So much hypocrisy; so little room to actually govern. Must be tough.
Most of the stuff I see on TikTok is made by Americans — I wonder what it will be like if all 150 million of them disappear. The other thing is, while TikTok is a grimy data-grabbing web2 platform just like all the other ones, the benefits are still far superior to the ones that Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram offer (I don’t think any of those have any benefits anymore actually). Ryan Brokerick described TikTok as the last place where you can go viral: there’s kind of nowhere else on the internet where you can pick up your phone, post something, and know that about a million people will see it almost immediately. Can’t we just have this??
Final note before I pass out: I’ve been sort of following the developments of all week and now I’m bored of thinking about TikTok and dumb American politicians. But, there is at least one representative who is asking the right kinds of questions, e.g. does TikTok’s algorithm suppress black voices? I suppose this will get swept under the rug like everything else important, and the blind moral panic will gobble up all reasonable arguments until there’s nothing left. So THIS is democracy.
📚 Okay I guess let’s never have anything nice, then
The Internet Archive, a non-profit organisation, is being sued for copyright infringement by four of the biggest publishing houses. You may know the Internet Archive best for the Way Back Machine, but it also has a huge repository of digitised books that you can borrow in the exact same way as you can in a physical public library.
💪 Cold, hard, rippling facts:
The Archive lends books via controlled digital lending (CDL), which is just a digitised version of physical lending: you go to the website, and check-out a digitised version of a book, and you are the only one who can read it until you check it back in again.
The Internet Archive is in possession of these books because it purchased them. Again, just like a library. But digital.
Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, John Wiley & Sons Inc., and Penguin Random House think that all of this is a threat to their ability to make profit from publishing books, and have called the Internet Archive’s library a “pirate site” — what a twist!
As far as I can see, in the same way that the US finds TikTok threatening purely because it was made in China, these publishers find the Internet Archive threatening purely because it is digital. This is a classic case of a legacy institution failing to adapt to a shifting market. There was a pandemic; books are expensive; libraries are far away — people still want to fucking READ.
The underlying issue is of course that for these publishers, their need to make profit has overshadowed our need for cultural enrichment. Knowledge and entertainment shouldn’t really cost money, but it does. As such, it’s in their interest to take books out of circulation so that they can afford to print new ones. This is literally why libraries exist! So we can still have access to old books and texts that would otherwise be out of print. But fine! Let’s just sue the Internet Archive then! This is why we can’t have nice things.
That’s it from me, I am now off to Brighton to do some cat-sitting with my girlfriend because yes… we are gay.