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Opinion

The US TikTok ban: A death rattle for a colonial and corrupt global narrative

20 Mar 2024 7 minute read
A scene from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange

Stephen Price

The United States moved a step closer to banning TikTok on Wednesday 13 March after the House of Representatives passed a bill calling for ByteDance, the app’s Chinese developer, to divest from the company.

The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, receiving 352 votes in favour, and only 65 against.

House legislators argue that the phenomenally popular app could allow the Chinese government to access data and influence TikTok users through addictive algorithms. President Joe Biden has confirmed that he would sign the Act if it passes Congress.

“Foreign influence”

TikTok’s 170 million US users as well as civil liberties and digital rights groups are gravely concerned, saying that a ban would infringe on freedom of speech.

But the legislators mean business. In 2020, the Chinese owner of Grindr, a gay dating app, was forced to sell up over national security concerns.

Al Jazeera’s Erin Hale wrote: “The battle over TikTok is the latest front in US-China competition and Washington’s attempts to thwart potential foreign influence campaigns.”

‘Acceptable’ foreign influence

A friend’s four-year-old nephew recently discovered her iPad and the touch screen computers at his local McDonalds.

When he’s allowed (which is not for very long before anyone attacks her and almost every other parent in the western world) he likes to watch game-playing, and can navigate a touch screen like the best of us.

He’s not allowed on there all day long, but like his peers and all of us (we see you putting the phone away when a loved one walks into the room to look superior! Scrolling? Moi?) he’s partial to a screen, but not so much a television screen.

And despite living in the Bannau Brycheiniog and attending a Welsh language school, he (both amusingly and worryingly) sometimes speaks English with an American accent.

‘And now we’re staring at a screen’

I’ve lost count of the corkers he’s come out with – from elevator to zebra (pronounced zeebra), egg plant to soccer and all things in between. It’s got a strange charm but it isn’t without its concerns.

Again, we can’t talk – British English is filled with Americanisms, my least favourite of the moment being English politicians saying ‘Bridish’ (ych a fi!).

Languages adapt all the time – it’s what keeps them relevant, fun and interesting.

But there’s something slightly insidious afoot in this life lived staring at a screen – ‘the reflective age’ as Arcade Fire puts it.

Our lives are entwined with social media now, and like Gruff Rhys so eloquently put it recently – current world events have given rise to new ways we MUST consume our journalism.

Citizen journalists Bisan Owda (Wizard Bisan) & Ahmed Shihab-Eldin (ahmedeldin)

Gruff said: “I’ve been on tour for much of the last few months since early October and have felt somewhat impotent as an artist, watching wave after wave of grotesque news unfold from afar, somewhat behind the news cycle in my chaotic travel and admiring the response from committed anti-war activists and citizen reporters.

“In fact it has changed my entire relationship with the media I consume.”

But when one man, Mark Zuckerberg, owns two of the chief platforms we all use, our citizen reporters must meet his Amerocentric approval. They don’t stand a chance.

“The king is dead, long live the king.”

‘It’s just a Reflektor’

I have personally received shadow bans and have been prevented from posting on my Instagram stories for sharing news from Gaza by the people of Gaza.

I shudder to think how my take on events in Palestine might look like if I hadn’t been following first-hand accounts and often-devastating content from the likes of Bisan Owda, Motaz Azaiza and others.

My shadow bans (like those of the citizen journalists I follow) effectively hide my content or prevent me from sharing or creating content and have been wholly unacceptable.

They raise many questions about the benevolence of the shiny happy owners of the west’s social media platforms and their funders.

But it’s what I signed up for. They’re private, profit-making companies after all.

The TikTok ban

Which leads me back to the proposed TikTok ban, or buyout, however it might be called.

At present, the vast majority of views on opinionated Israel/Palestine hashtags are weighted in favour of a ceasefire, of kindness, of reconciliation – of a recognised and safe land for Palestinians.

In December 2023, the number one TikTok hashtag in the US was FreePalestine (at 82.6m views on 22 December 2023), followed by Freegaza, Palestinetiktok, SaveGaza, StandwithGaza and so on.

IstandwithIsrael, on the very same day, had 2m views.

America no longer owns the global narrative, and it’s scared.

X user, Iamrshadalii’s viral post makes it clear: “Make no mistake: The TikTok ban has everything to do with Palestine.”

Quantity over quality

And it’s not just social media that I’m feeling ever more cautious about lately. It’s streaming platforms too.

Where once we got what we were given, and got given freedom to read, create, be outside (heaven forbid) when there was ’nothing on’ – we’re now wading through a noxious swamp of everything all at once. A blender overflowing with greatness and rot simultaneously.

It’s all beginning to look the same.

I personally don’t think the USA should be the place we look towards for our cultural bread and butter – whether its social media or streaming television. Like fast food, the country’s output hits the spot there and then but it’s severely lacking in nutrition.

With spring just around the corner, I for one aim to switch off the rot and permit fewer American accents and brain-dead television shows into my already overloaded brain.

So very little compares with the best of “Bridish’ TV anyway – correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve yet to find a Brideshead Revisited, Fleabag, This Life, Our Friends in the North… you name it.

And the less said about American ‘documentaries’ the better…

Potency

The stark difference in how music or performance on screen moves us when our gaze isn’t stolen by sense-deadening devices and apps is glaring. The same goes for a conversation, a concert, a walk through a woods. Is friendship any different?

We don’t listen to each other, we don’t watch the things we’re watching.

We view the most harrowing tragic events in the same finger stroke as cookery demos, kittens and advert after advert after advert.

Is it any wonder we’re all just a little overwhelmed?

A little less scrolling, a little more action is in order for all of us. But younger people who have grown up in the digital age know little else. Online is where they hang out, chat, study, evolve.

We owe it to them to get it right. And to not let hypocritical America tell us what ‘right’ looks like.

‘See you on the other side.’


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Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
30 days ago

Tik Tok is a propaganda device which Goebbels would have snapped up immediately. As well as harvesting information for the Chinese Communist Party it is unashamedly manipulating especially the young ranging from persuading them to hang themselves in bedrooms to reviving the fashion for glue sniffing. I do not doubt that a large number of people attending these Pro Palestine rallies have been goaded into it by Tik Tok and other social media. There is a much nastier civil war going on longer in Sudan where Arabs are killing Arabs yet there are no protests about that. Or the Syrian… Read more »

Mawkernewek
Mawkernewek
30 days ago

And do you think Facebook aren’t doing the exact same thing?

Alun
Alun
30 days ago
Reply to  Mawkernewek

I don’t use either, but TikTok is far more insidious than Facebook for the very simple reason that the curation is more pervasive (all content is served up based on TikTok’s determination of what you should see, this is the case with all social media to an extent but due to the scrolling video format TikTok is better able to manage your engagement with it) and it is engineered in a way designed to hold attention more closely and over longer periods of time. We probably understand the full extent of the harms Facebook as a platform is capable of.… Read more »

Uhh
Uhh
30 days ago

Goaded into it? Or maybe they just have principles?

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
29 days ago

Do you know the origins about the present day situation in Syria?
Similarities to Iraq under Sadam Hussain. Look at what happened to Iraq because of The Anglosphere interference.Before 2011 there was stability in Syria yet this collapsed due to Western Interference in a more subtle way.
You forgot to mention the genocide in Yemen again Western involvement through Saudi Arabia.
Also where was the support for Armenia as there was for Ukraine over the ethnic cleansing of Nagorno Karabakh by the Azerbaijan military.

Last edited 29 days ago by Johnny Gamble
Jeff
Jeff
30 days ago

But the US allow Murdoch to run his horrendous platforms, Musk running (ruining) twitter and Trump with his TS platform.

And if the US are worried about secrets going to China, check out trumps lockers. Probably already gone.

TomTom82
TomTom82
30 days ago
Reply to  Jeff

Musk made freedom of speech the norm, something Twitter should never have censored.

Jeff
Jeff
29 days ago
Reply to  TomTom82

Suppose it is one way of saying it is OK for white supremacists , neo nazi, holocaust deniers, misogynists, race baiters, people advocating violence on women, violent insurrectionists, sex pests and many more of ill repute to have a free speech and welcome them. Musk really has opened the flood gates there for “free speech”.

But in the US, tiktoc cos China, grrrr. (they both need sanctions).

Rob
Rob
29 days ago
Reply to  Jeff

To be fair to Facebook, You Tube and Twitter (before Musk took it over) they do on occasions regulate themselves. Alex Jones was banned for making up lies about school shootings being a hoax, and that the grieving families were crisis actors. Trump banned for making up lies about the 2020 being stolen from him. It should be noted that this is not a free speech issue, as they are private companies where account holders have to comply with their terms and conditions.

Riki
Riki
30 days ago

Corporate warfare, they don’t want to ban it, they want to own it.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
29 days ago

TikTok is a blight on the social media landscape so if the US want it to be broken up and sold to a US company then fine. Facebook after all is banned in China.

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