TikTok, Social Media Hate And National Security — Time To Bring In The Auditors
We can’t make social media safe from the Chinese government or from anti-Semites without proper information and regulation. We need to open up the bonnet of social media to independent scrutiny and expert audit.
We open in an Essex garden. A woman exclaims “what a lovely evening — wish the girls were here for a beveragino”, the cue for more Essex women to jump out of the bushes asking “did someone say beveragino?”. Simple, irresistibly joyful, and viral.
Spend an hour on TikTok watching this, swimming pool pranks, and dance videos and it’s difficult to imagine that the platform is considered a national security risk so serious that it could be banned.
After the UK government followed the US and announced that Huawei is to be removed from UK 5G networks by 2027, attention has turned to TikTok. Mike Pompeo has said that the US is considering a ban, India has already banned it and Japan’s lawmakers are considering restrictions. But the risk that TikTok presents to the West is not the same as the one presented by Huawei. Banning TikTok would not be the same as removing telecoms equipment from core communications networks.
The concerns about TikTok and its relationship with the Chinese government centre around the sharing of personal data, political censorship, surveillance, subtle manipulation of audiences, and poor moderation standards around harmful content. But apart from the question of outright censorship of Chinese political content, these are classic concerns levied constantly at US-owned social media companies.
The heart of the problem is not only geopolitics, but a damaging information asymmetry between society and social media platforms. Governments, regulators, and civil society simply don’t know enough about the platforms, the way they moderate, the way they recommend and prioritize content and a host of other process that are kept opaque to the outside world. In the absence of knowledge, it’s not surprising that…