Social Media War: Trump’s Tasteless Diversion:An Un-American, Cruel, and Crude Way of Playing Politics
Early in August, President Trump announced an Executive order to ban TikTok and WeChat, social media platforms owned by Chinese companies, citing security concerns.
Early in August, President Trump announced an Executive order to ban TikTok and WeChat, social media platforms owned by Chinese companies, citing security concerns. U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross stated, “We have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.”
As Americans, we pride ourselves in these “values” so much so that we toss them around until they lose all meaning. We know what these values are in the traditional sense from our history classes—the government’s respect of an American’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet in the rapidly modernizing tech landscape, First Amendment rights to the freedom of speech and press have become muddled in the complexities of any app’s Terms and Conditions agreement page. However, the decision to outlaw the use of a social media platform simply for suspected and unproven ties to a foreign government is a step taken too far. It stands as a flagrant violation of free speech, and the ban’s censorial effects will only hurt the American people. In claiming to uphold these democratic values, the government is only jeopardizing them because banning TikTok and WeChat will only make the lives of those who truly need them harder.
The administration’s principal argument centers around the potential for these Chinese companies to breach the privacy of American citizens and threaten American national security, bt the American government has yet to provide concrete proof of any of these accusations. At best, the statements are vague speculation of what China could do. The assumption that the Chinese government has been compiling dossiers on American citizens are unfounded, and TikTok as a company has stored its data in the U.S. and Singapore, out of the domain of the Chinese government. Unsubstantiated as these claims are, however, I do agree that TikTok and WeChat indeed raise cybersecurity concerns, though banning them seems too drastic of a measure. Chinese or American, tracking browsing history and keystroke patterns is standard service practice in the industry. American owned apps pose just as much of a threat to a citizen’s privacy as any of the Chinese ones. Frankly speaking, pointing fingers at China for contravening privacy guidelines is rather hypocritical of the U.S. government, especially seeing that as recently as 2019, an American state judge forced GEDmatch, a public genealogy site, to allow police to search its entire database of over 1.3 million participants of DNA profiles without their consent. Banning two Chinese apps does little to resolve the U.S. government’s national security concerns. Addressing American data security as a whole would.
If America’s ban on TikTok and WeChat isn’t based on security reasons, then what is it? A ruse, a set grandiose statements under which political exchanges are played out. Viewed on a larger scale, the ban is a wild last attempt on Trump’s part to avert American attention away from the plethora of internal issues that have arisen during his term, including his disastrous response to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the upcoming 2020 election just around the corner, President Trump needs a convenient excuse to explain away his shortcomings, and China is the perfect target to place the blame on. An economic competitor to the U.S., it was easy for Trump to form China into a hazy but formidable threat halfway across the globe.
Ethically speaking, however, Trump’s decision goes against the very fundamental “national values” that Wilbur Ross had promised would be promoted in banning the apps. Yes, China banned American apps. Yes, its values are a menace to free speech and democracy.
So why are we doing the same? The act in of itself debases the concept of free commerce, something the U.S. prides itself over. It degrades America’s moral authority, which has already been severely damaged in recent years.
Throughout these past few months, TikTok has expanded to much more than its lip-sync video beginnings: it has become the app for many millennials and “Zoomers” to express their opinions and plans of action on the BLM Movement, Covid-19 pandemic, and on President Trump himself. While we will never know how much of Trump’s decision making to ban the app was impacted by his failed rally at Tulsa, Oklahoma, where TikTok teens registered for hundreds of thousands of tickets only to not show up, it serves as a reminder to us just how powerful TikTok can be.
America clamping down on the fastest growing social media app in the nation during such a tumultuous time, intentional or not, is frighteningly reminiscent of the actions of several authoritarian governments in recent years.
WeChat, seemingly less relevant to the general American population, is an app widely used by the Chinese. For the multitude of Chinese immigrants—many of whom have become American citizens or whose families retain American citizenship—struggling to speak English, WeChat becomes the only means of communication with family and friends still residing in China. Banning WeChat effectively isolates these people, thrusting them forcibly into an unfamiliar society.
There seems to be no other reason to go to the extreme of banning TikTok and WeChat other than the purely selfish rationale of America’s leaders. Caught up in the tense exchanges between China and the U.S., the core American values seem all but forgotten, and the victims who suffer the consequences are the common people.