President Trump, TikTok, and Big Tech
Not only President Donald Trump, but millions of people are witnessing, experiencing, and complaining about the left-wing political bias and tilt of Big Tech, which has appropriately been called Big Tech Tyranny. In recent days, President Trump has targeted two of the highest-profile and most successful Big Tech social media apps — TikTok and WeChat — both of them owned by companies in communist China.
TikTok, popular with smart phone–users under 25, has 100 million users in the U.S. Since its introduction in app stores less than three years ago, TikTok has been one of the most downloaded apps on smartphones. On the cutting edge of addictive social media apps, TikTok allows its users to produce and share elaborate and funny music video productions as long as 15 seconds, which — if they go viral — can help to turbo-charge the user's career into the online stratosphere and put money in his pocket.
In both of his recent executive orders "addressing the threat posed" by TikTok and WeChat, the president named the International Emergency Economic Powers Act as his legal authority for the move, as well as the National Emergencies Act — effectively identifying TikTok's continued operation within the United States as a national emergency. The recent targeting of businesses based in China, especially in the tech sector, as a threat to national security, as the BBC reported on July 8, is based on "[t]he director of the FBI [saying] that acts of espionage and theft by China's government pose the 'greatest long-term threat' to the future of the US."
In recent years, meanwhile, Google and the other U.S.-based social media giants have amassed unprecedented power over information and its dissemination online. A growing number of observers think Google, the world's largest search engine (the most visited website in the world, which also owns YouTube), has its thumb on the scale, so to speak, which is critically important especially in this pivotal election year. Among the critics is Robert Epstein, Ph.D., senior research psychologist, American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology. I interviewed Epstein two years ago, and he has since emerged as one of the major public opponents of Big Tech. In sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, Epstein said Google can influence and shift 15 million votes in the 2020 elections by stealthily manipulating its search algorithms.
In addition to the opaque actions of Google, social media giants Twitter and Facebook are, like Google, shadowbanning and outright banning thousands of conservative users. They censored the Frontline Doctors last month. They are censoring President Trump. They censored American Thinker. And they also have been messing with the online presence of little old me.
In the case of TikTok, the software, like a lot of popular apps today, has an intrusive backdoor that vacuums up a shocking amount of its users' personal data. TikTok's data collection "potentially allow[s] China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage," according to President Trump's Executive Order on TikTok. Appearing on Sunday Morning Futures on the Fox News Channel on August 9, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) noted, "[B]ehind that [TikTok] app on your phone is a vacuum of data of everything on your device, contacts, e-mails, text messages, photographs, social media posts, even browser history, keystrokes, and location data."
In addition to TikTok accessing, archiving, and potentially sharing its users' data, the left-wing British newspaper the Guardian, in an article on September 25, 2019 that cited internal company documents it had obtained, reported that TikTok routinely censored videos for political purposes. The Guardian article mentioned videos of Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, and Falun Gong that were deleted. TikTok, it noted, "advances Chinese foreign policy aims abroad through its apps." Last year, ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, was fined $5.7 million for illegally collecting personal information on children who are less than thirteen years of age.
The larger context of the subject of President Trump vs. Big Tech — and China — is this: after initially saying positive things about China when he took office, as a strategy to encourage a fairer trade deal with the country, Trump became very critical of China. The president's critique escalated after China misled the world including covering up the severity of COVID-19 in the critical early days of the pandemic. Recent polls reflect a profound change in the American public's attitudes towards China that are now more in sync with Trump's — that is, wary and increasingly concerned.
A Pew Research Center poll, published on April 21, 2020, for example, reported that Americans' attitudes toward China have taken a nosedive, especially in the wake of the spread of COVID-19. This year, only 26 percent of Americans have a favorable rating of China compared with 66 percent who hold an unfavorable view. In 2006, the reverse was true: 29 percent unfavorable to 52 percent favorable. The Pew report notes:
Roughly two-thirds now say they have an unfavorable view of China, the most negative rating for the country since the Center began asking the question in 2005, and up nearly 20 percentage points since the start of the Trump administration. Positive views of China's leader, President Xi Jinping, are also at historically low levels.
Readers may remember that on June 20, when President Trump's first rally after the COVID-19 lockdowns, in Tulsa, Okla., was perceived as not quite living up to its advanced hype, TikTok was blamed for allegedly having played a role in the less than full house turnout. That story came and went quickly in the news cycle within 24 hours.
The actual implementation of the president's August 6 Executive Order, which prohibits financial transactions in the U.S. with ByteDance and Tencent, the owners of TikTok and WeChat respectively, takes effect next month, 45 days after his order. It is, however, somewhat in doubt as the order will likely move to the courts where its legality has yet to be determined. Meanwhile, Microsoft has expressed an interest in acquiring TikTok. A recent article in Wired that traces Microsoft's and its founder and former head Bill Gates's close relationship with Communist China since 1998 does not inspire much confidence in that possible outcome.
In terms of what's ahead for Big Tech in general this year, all bets are off as the national elections in 83 days promises to be the most chaotic and unpredictable in recent American history — maybe since the first U.S. presidential election in 1788-'89 elevated George Washington to the office. Since Big Tech is such a big part of everything in the public sphere these days, scrutiny and criticism of it, in addition to demands for reform, may become a big factor in politics, including on the part of the party that loses the election.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications. He also appears in the media, including recently as a contributor to BBC World News. Peter's website is http://peter.media. His YouTube channel is here. For updates on his work, follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.