Written 14 Dec 2022 at 17:55
“ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act”: this is the name of a bipartisan bill introduced Tuesday in Washington to kick social network TikTok out of the United States, the latest coup by hardliners at a time when attitudes are hardening against Chinese companies.
“It’s time to ban TikTok, which is controlled by Beijing, forever,” said Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the author of this text, whose acronym stands for “Act to Prevent the National Surveillance Threat from the Internet, Repression through censorship and influence, and algorithmic learning from the Chinese Communist Party”.
This initiative comes as the social network navigates a major blur in the United States: after almost going into the hands of the American Oracle under pressure from Donald Trump, the American subsidiary of the Chinese Bytedance was pardoned by Joe Biden. But in two years, the Department of Justice and the Administrative Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) have not yet decided on its fate.
Five states ban TikTok
Although TikTok has promised to host its American users’ personal data in the US, at Oracle, with strict access rules to avoid any interference by a foreign power, parliamentarians fear that this will go to China.
In addition, Democrats and Republicans criticize the dangers of child addiction and dangerous content. It is actually easy to register on the social network by falsely claiming to be 13 or older, and everything is done on this social network to highlight videos that are often futile but have an addictive side.
The winds blow to the prohibition camp. The House of Representatives switches to the Republican side in January. This will increase the pressure on Joe Biden to make the toughest decision possible. The Democratic president himself has demonstrated his appetite for highly protectionist texts targeting batteries, Chinese solar panels or semiconductor exports to China.
The pressure rises. Texas, South Dakota, South Carolina, Maryland, have followed Nebraska’s example and banned their employees from using TikTok. The Attorney General of Indiana has initiated proceedings regarding the use of data and the protection of minors.
A particularly addictive network
FBI Director Christopher Wray entered the fray in November by publicly declaring “extreme concern” that China could influence public opinion and collect personal data through TikTok. The notice was passed to CFIUS, which oversees foreign investment, as part of its review of the merger between Bytedance and Musical.ly, the birth certificate of TikTok US in 2017.
TikTok has over 138 million monthly active users in the US. This social network, which appeals to the youngest, is particularly addictive, with time spent on the application on average ten times greater than the time spent on Instagram. Users spend more time watching short videos made by other users than actually chatting with their friends.
An “addictive” network with “Russian propaganda”, according to Emmanuel Macron
In France, too, there are questions about the popular success of TikTok, a vector of Chinese influence. Emmanuel Macron is active on the popular social network for very young people with 3.2 million subscribers on his account. Last week, during a meeting with young mental health professionals, he highlighted the effectiveness of TikTok, an “addictive” network that “knows very well what you like” and “pushes hyper things that are well done, that are very more innovative than the Americans”. There is nothing about the forced labor of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, he pointed out – because Beijing keeps an eye on the grain. “That’s where you’ve hidden Russian propaganda,” he added. On Wednesday, Eric Garandeau, one of the leaders of TikTok France, came to defend the content moderation policy: there is “about 1% of the content that is problematic”, he pleaded during a symposium at the National Assembly.