Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Hearings Expose Hypocrisy Of TikTok Fearmongers

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The recent congressional hearings in which members questioned (and harangued) CEO Shou Chew went according to plan: members rode the moral panic wave for all it was worth. And no minds were changed. The pols are keen to ban the platform; the platform is just as keen to show it's not a tool of the Chinese government.

What did not come out of the hearings were questions about whether the state should be banning a social platform (never mind how it would enforce a ban without looking exactly like the thuggish authoritarians the worthies say are brainwashing kids).

Fortunately, not everyone in official Washington was willing to swallow what was peddling. The Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a report detailing how the government “hasn't justified a TikTok ban.”

Putting aside the very real and largely ignored questions about government censoring users' speech, there is also the grubby business of who wins if the government decides TikTok loses. Not surprisingly, it's Facebook and friends who are playing for keeps (because money and eyeballs are on the line):

Mark Zuckerberg's still dominates the market – Facebook has 2.9 billion monthly active users, and Instagram another 2 billion, with Insider Intelligence putting their 2024 ad revenues at $85bn and $82bn respectively. Even so, it emerged last month that fear of TikTok had led it to hire a lobbying firm to paint the company as the “real threat, especially as a foreign-owned app”.

Meta's tactics to exploit the suspicion promoted under the that Chinese companies, from telecoms giant Huawei to TikTok's parent ByteDance, pose a national security threat as potential conduits of personal data to Beijing.

All of which adds another layer of meaning to actor Sacha Baron Cohen's 2019 remarks before the Anti-Defamation League about Facebook, Google, Twitter, and YouTube: collectively they are “…the greatest propaganda machine in history.”

Needless to say, none of them were the object of the congressional version of the “two-minutes hate.