TikToks Never Ending Problem
The Problem with banning Tiktok, Tiktoks Frictionless personalization is what made the app an instant success around the world. However, now that global success is crashing into international politics, putting TikTok in the middle of worldwide battle over how open the internet should be. President Trump has been threatening to ban Tiktok In the United States, as Microsoft is hoping to acquire it. Chinese tech companies traditionally have really struggled to get a cultural foothold in the U.S because the culture is just so different. ByteDance became the first globally-successful Chinese app. How they did it all comes down to design. When you first open up TikTok, you don't have to follow anyone or tell the app about your interests, or even choose what to watch. It shows you a video, and the only decision you have to make is how long you tend it. So if you look at the history of social media, most of the giants in social networking today started by having essentially built up a social graph from the bottoms up. A social map is the web of accounts you follow, and it determines most of the content you see on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. The problem with that approach is that it can feel like work: building up a social network takes time; you're not necessarily going to like every post from the accounts you follow, and it's hard to find accounts that you would like but don't know about.
Tiktok took a different approach. It bypasses the social graph, and instead builds an “interest graph” by watching you interact with videos. TIktok isn't the first platform to do that. ITs basically how youtube works too but because tik tok videos are less than 60 seconds long, you watch more of them, which means more data. People talk about the tiktok algorithm as if its some magic piece of software that is just miraculously better than every piece of software out there. However the truth is that it's not necessarily that the algorithms themselves have gotten that much better. But if you massively increase the training data set that you train the algorithm in, you can achieve really amazing results. That's why a lot of people describe the algorithm as an eerily accurate, or personalized tiktoks interest graph that introduces you to like minded people. Because the videos are often music or meme-based rather than language based, you may find that some of those like-minded people live on the other side of the world. They might be a dancer in Nepal, a family in Mexico, or kids in the U.K as long as the algorithm predicts that it'll entertain you. So in that way, the tiktok algorithm kind of allows Byte Dance to gain traction in markets all over the world. With langauges that they don't understand, subcultures they don't understand. Tiks Toks global appeal enabled it to reach a billion users faster than the other social media giants had. However it also set the app on a collision course with a different trend. The rise of internet nationalism. “India is banning Tiktok and dozens of other chinese apps.” Australia has cited concerns about national security. So too has South korea.
President Trump issued an executive order that would ban tik tok and messaging app we chat from operating in the US in 45 days. Bye Dance is based in China which means its subject to surveillance by a regime known for censorship, human rights abuses, and cyber espionage. However TikTok has stated they never provided any US user data to the Chinese government. President Trump has hinted that this is actually about getting revenge for the coronavirus. But whatever the motivation, the US targeting a globally popular app is a big deal because it throws a wrench into one of the biggest debates over what the internet should be. A New America Foundation report plots that debale along a spectrum- of how open the internet is within a country. So on the one pole we can visualize the free and open model, so that's the democratic model with very little state involvement in the internet. As the original home of many of the worlds biggest tech companies, the US has traditionally advocated for the free flow of information online. The opposite end of the spectrum is what we see in countries like China, where there is a heavy state involvement in content where they do go to internet companies and say, you have to censor all of these keywords. You have to censor all these foreign websites. China's great firewalls famously block sites like Google, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Netflix, Whatsapp, and many western news outlets. However, it is not just China anymore. What we see in the middle of that scale is countries would play in a pivotal role going forward in this global scale tipping we see. According to analysts surveyed for this report, many of these countries shifted towards less openness between 2014 and 2018. In 2019 Russia moved to build an internet that is isolated from the rest of the world, following years of increasing government censorship. Turkey has been on some news websites and recently passed a law giving the government sweeping powers over social media and India, the world's largest democracy. Leads the word in deliberate internet shutdowns. Turning off the internet is becoming a defining tool of government repression.”As governments decide that the world wide web does not suit their interests, we end up with a fractured internet, what some call the splinternet” Where national borders increasingly dictate what information people can access online. Now its up to democratic countries to reimagine an open internet worth fighting for. Instead the US is threatening to ban a platform used by millions of Americans. The US benefits from having technological leadership, it benefits from promoting a democratic internet model and contesting authoritarianism and so abdicating leadership on that front is not in the own interests of the US either. Tiktok created a uniquely international platform. However it emerged onto an internet that wasn't quite ready for it. It arrived from rising nationalism, from a country that has never respected internet freedom so now its forcing the issue: When authoritarian states assert control over online speech should the US respond by doing the same thing?