Business & Economy

US, China digging in on Internet regarding TikTok

By Jairo Mejia/Javier Garcia

New York/Beijing, Aug 5 (efe-epa).- The battle over TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing app that in just a few years has expanded to the level of Instagram and Twitter, is the latest episode in the “cold war” between the Washington and Beijing.

It’s a battle that could turn the Internet upside down, raise online walls and affect one of the few sectors with a promising future in a world in crisis.

In a meeting on Tuesday with employees, the leadership of TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, said that it was a foregone conclusion that there would have to be some kind of forced sales agreement for the firm to continue operating in the US, a situation that could be resolved prior to Sept. 15, the deadline set by US President Donald Trump for TikTok’s purchase by a US firm.

If no sale can be arranged, however, Trump has said that TikTok will be banned from operating in the US.

According to the specialized media outlet The Information, TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer, formerly of Disney, told workers in a teleconference that the firm will emerge stronger from the anticipated acquisition, although he said that the results of the purchase talks currently under way is still up in the air.

The conflict surrounding TikTok is the most recent conflagration in the turmoil that began more than two years ago in the commercial realm and which has evolved into open US-Chinese economic warfare for technological supremacy amid which digital walls are being raised between the two powers that – although both are claiming victory – have both suffered significant losses.

Both US and Chinese experts agree that the new crop of Chinese digital entrepreneurs do not want to get involved in the trade, ideological and geopolitical war between Washington and Beijing, preferring to devote themselves to carving out as much territory as possible on the Internet with apps that draw in teens, “influencers” and advertisers worldwide.

All this week, Trump has been repeating his threat to shut down TikTok as a danger to national security stemming from the fact that it’s owned by China and doubts exist about its commitment to protecting US customer data and whether the Beijing government could influence how the social network crafts the perception of reality that its 100 million US users receive.

The Trump administration’s decision could have more long-term consequences for how the Internet evolves, with countries potentially resorting to the practice of nationalizing foreign investments, something quite common under the Chinese regime but which has no precedent on the open and democratic US Internet and which ignores the repeated attempts by ByteDance to portray itself as a Silicon Valley-like tech firm.

To ban TikTok, an app where much of the content is of teens and celebrities dancing, Trump would have to resort to declaring a national emergency and implementing some of the laws that permit the US executive branch to act in cases where national security is deemed to be flagrantly endangered, something that has never before been undertaken.

“While there are significant reasons to be concerned over security, privacy and TikTok’s relationship with the Chinese government, we should resist the government’s efforts to prohibit a popular medium of communication and expression,” a spokesperson for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which works to ensure an open and transparent Internet, told EFE.

ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming, in an internal letter to employees, said that the firm has “always been committed to protect the data of users and maintain TikTok’s neutrality and transparency,” at the same time that he speculated that the ultimate objective is to remove TikTok, the price for which could exceed $30 billion, from the online playing field.

Zhang, at age 37 one of China’s richest men, said that if Trump tries to ban TikTok, the firm would not be able to oppose that move.

The California “cool kids” never thought they would become involved in the cold war between the US and China, especially due to their use of TikTok, an app that for many teens is a forum on which they bolster their own popularity and bank accounts.

For Bryce Xavier – an 18-year-old musician, actor and influencer – the end of TikTok would be the end of his life in the Los Angeles mansion he shares with several other teens who devote themselves to choreographing online dances, taking selfies and sunbathing while glued to the screens of their smartphones.

Trump, an influencer of another type, could force dozens of celebrities to rethink their online activities given that thanks to TikTok they have managed to rake in tens of millions of followers and sign lucrative contracts of various sorts.

Apps and social video outlets similar to TikTok have launched an aggressive campaign to capture users and “creators” in the face of the possibility that the Chinese app may wind up disappearing or drifting.

Facebook, created by now-36-year-old Mark Zuckerberg in 2007 and which is now the planet’s biggest social network, on Wednesday announced the launching of Reel within Instagram, a service that replicates TikTok’s recipe for success by focusing on the consumption of celebrity, music and dancing content as the central motive and promotional avenue for “creators.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Webin said Tuesday that the US campaign against TikTok was “pure manipulation” and warned the Trump administration not to “open Pandora’s box” unless it is prepared to “suffer the consequences.”

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