China’s information weapon or “spreader of joy”? This is how Tiktok grew into a hotbed of controversy for the major powers

Forcing Tiktok into American ownership would not eliminate a larger problem affecting all social media companies, writes HS’s social media producer Salla Varpula.

Temptation An election prank based on the Island Suomi series. Kiira Korpi reading an excerpt from her poetry book. Taylor Swift’s live performance on the singer’s US tour.

This is what my Tiktok homepage looks like, for you page that is, more familiarly fyp at the end of February while browsing the app. Not particularly dangerous or worrisome.

In recent months, however, concerns have been raised around the world to an ever-increasing extent.

Tiktok has come under special fire in the United States.

CEO of Tiktok owned by China’s Bytedance Shou Zi Chew testified before the US Congress on Thursday to address concerns about the app’s security and China’s potential access to user data.

Chew tried again and again to say that neither Tiktok nor its parent company Bytedance is an information weapon of the Chinese Communist Party, but there was little sympathy from Congress.

How did Teinien’s dance app initially become the world’s most talked about and downloaded social media platform and, above all, the center of data security concerns?

Tiktok has grown into a huge social media giant in seven years.

The application was born in its current form in 2017, but the real explosion in the number of users took place in 2020, when the corona pandemic left people time to waste time on their smartphones.

It is telling that even in 2020, the application’s advertising revenue in the United States was 780 million dollars, or about 717 million euros. Last year, the number had already increased to 6.83 billion.

Today, Tiktok reportedly has more than a billion users around the world. Its turnover was estimated According to Reuters to have been around $11 billion in 2022.

Tiktok was used in 2021 more than Google.

The application has changed the entire social media industry and people’s media usage. Other social media companies have imitated its short video format, appearance and other characteristics. For example, Reels, launched by Meta’s Instagram in 2020, is practically a copy of Tiktok.

It has been seen again and again that Tiktok has an impact on events in the outside world as well.

It has raised artists previously unknown to the general public, writers and artists to super popularity, made feta run out of stores because of the trending recipe and caused a loss of audience of the former President of the United States Donald Trump’s at a support event in 2020.

Tiktokin CEO’s hearing in Congress culminated the US administration’s fight against the app, which lasted until 2020.

In July 2020, Trump surprised reporters by saying that he plans to ban Tiktok in the United States. According to Trump, Tiktok should be sold to an American company, or its use in the United States would end completely.

The Tiktok ban didn’t work during the Trump era, but now Joe Bidenin the administration is trying the same trick again. Last week it was reported that the Biden administration has threatened to ban Tiktok if the Chinese owners of the company do not sell their shares in the company to the United States.

It is not yet clear how Biden’s Tiktok ban would materialize in practice – especially when a similar company already ran into legal problems earlier.

Speculated a price tag of more than 50 billion dollars also effectively weeds out potential buyer candidates.

This one in the past year, Tiktok has raised concerns in places other than the United States.

Within a short time, it has been reported that, for example the European Commission, Belgium, New Zealand, You have and Britannia prohibit their employees or representatives from using Tiktok on work phones. On Friday, France also banned the use of Tiktok on work phones.

in the Finnish Parliament no corresponding decision has been made.

At least the BBC and Denmark’s Danmarks Radio are public broadcasters have instructed employees to remove the application from their phones. Also, many Finnish media, including Helsingin Sanomat, have several Tiktok accounts, through which they can reach audiences who would not otherwise end up at the news.

Why Tiktok is then fiercely opposed around the world?

Care is taken in particular about two things: the application’s data protection and information influence.

On the other hand, there is a fear that Tiktok’s owner, the Chinese Bytedance, would hand over user information to the Chinese communist government. There is no evidence that this happened. Tiktok itself has repeatedly denied that it will hand over its users’ data to China.

On Thursday, Chew again said that neither Tiktok nor parent company Bytedance is “owned or controlled by the Chinese government” and that he has seen no evidence that the Chinese government has accessed or even requested access to American users’ data.

On Friday, China also assured that it will not ask companies to hand over data collected abroad to it.

In June 2022 Buzzfeed News reported having received leaked information that Bytedance’s Chinese employees had access to the data of US users as early as last year.

In December, Bytedance said it had fired four Chinese employees who had been spying on American journalists’ Tiktok data in an attempt to track down the source of the data leaked to the journalists. According to Bytedance, employees work alone.

In the beginning of March Tiktok said it was reforming its data protection practices and that it will start storing the data of its European users in Europe. The strategy goes by the name of project Apila.

A similar Project Texas is underway in the United States. At Thursday’s hearing, a Texas congressman August Pfluger however, asked the company to name its project again.

“We are on the side of freedom and transparency, and we don’t want your project,” he said.

Second The concern surrounding Tiktok is that the app would censor certain videos and that the Chinese state would use it to shape people’s opinions.

of The Guardian and The Washington Post reports According to Tiktok, Tiktok has previously instructed its moderators to remove, for example, videos dealing with the treatment of Uyghurs, Hong Kong protests and the Tiananmen massacre.

The company has previously defended its moderation practices by saying that the application is not intended for politics but for “spreading joy”. According to the company, moderation practices have also been changed since then.

On Thursday, Tiktok’s CEO assured that the platform does not censor content embarrassing to China, such as videos of the Tiananmen massacre.

“Such content is available on Tiktok. You can go there and get it yourself,” Chew said.

It’s about the trust that Western countries don’t have towards the Chinese company.

Running a week before his congress hearing, Shou Zi Chew posted a video on his Tiktok account. In the video, he says that “some politicians” want to take the app away from its 150 million American users and asks them to share their thoughts on why they love the app in the comment field.

There have been many replies.

“I have learned about history, art, psychology and current affairs. Tiktok is authentic in a way Facebook never is. I feel less alone here,” commented one.

“Tiktok helped me cope when I was stuck in my small apartment during the pandemic.”

“Please, don’t take this away from us.”

Several American tiktok users have also made their own videos in which they talk about the meaning of the application to them. Their message is unified: It’s pointless to hope that the Tiktok ban will make American youth return to Facebook and Instagram in droves.

In any case, American social media companies benefit from the debate surrounding Tiktok. On Thursday, the stock prices of both Meta and Snapchat were rising.

The Washington Postin according to the investigation, Meta has also paid a Republican consulting firm to turn public opinion against Tiktok. According to the newspaper, the company has, for example, fed local media in the United States with story tips that would prove that Tiktok is dangerous for children.

Arguments opinion editing and lax data protection are not unique to Tiktok.

On the contrary: all social media platforms collect information about their users, the purposes of which are unclear to the users.

The concern is above all about China, not so much about Tiktok itself. It’s about the trust that Western countries don’t have towards the Chinese company.

Tiktokin selling to US ownership would remove the fear of the Chinese government gaining access to the data of people living in Western countries, but would not address the root cause: the opacity of social media giants, regardless of their nationality.

Besides, selling a Chinese app to the United States has not eliminated problems in the past either.

In 2019, the US government ordered that the gay dating app Grindr must be sold from Chinese ownership to Americans. In the beginning of March The Washington Post reported, that a group of American conservative Catholics had bought Grindr user data to find and expose homosexual priests.

At Thursday’s hearing, Tiktok’s CEO also pointed out that American social media companies have not had a particularly good reputation in matters related to privacy protection.

“Just look at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.”

It also became clear at Thursday’s congressional hearing that the decision-makers’ understanding of technology is not necessarily up to date.

“If I have Tiktok on my phone, and my phone is on my home wifi network, does Tiktok use wifi?” one representative asked.

Author: JJ Beat

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