Trump vs TikTok


Alex Whipkey, Editor

By now, it is safe to say that everyone has heard about President Trump’s controversial resolution to ban TikTok in the United States despite its extreme popularity. That decision comes despite the Chinese-owned platform’s extreme popularity, with about 100 million users in the US . I have found that many people do not understand the rationale behind this move and have not been able to follow the chaotic, convoluted standoff over the past months, and I will attempt to elucidate some of the situation here.

First, to dispel rumors about the administration’s motivation: Mr. Trump has not resolved to ban the platform because its users have criticized him online. The President has of course publicly expressed anger at his detractors before, but that was always in the form of a bizarre series of Tweets or an attempt to get his crowd riled up at a rally. An actual executive order to ban the platform without a valid reason would be seen as a limitation of free speech and grounds for impeachment and removal from office, even to Republicans who would usually support the President. This rumor came about on the internet after teenagers on TikTok apparently ruined Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa by booking hundreds of thousands of free tickets and leaving the President and his campaign disappointed when only a couple thousand showed up.

The Trump Administration’s problem with TikTok is that is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company with ties to that country’s government. Alarm bells about the potential dangers of using the platform began sounding in June, when Apple’s iOS began catching the app spying on users by reading their keystrokes and clipboards. Given China’s track record of spying on its own citizens, it is not unreasonable to think that they would be spying on American citizens as well, especially given that China sees the US as its main rival.

Furthermore, TikTok has been shown to silence speech critical of the Chinese Communist Party and its practices. While it would be expected that the Chinese-only branch of TikTok, called Douyin, would silence such dissent, the international version which we in America use seems to have the same policy. Posts in support of Hong Kong democracy, the Free Tibet movement, and Taiwanese legitimacy are all missing on TikTok, as are posts about events such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre and the concentration camps located in Xinjiang in which the Chinese Communist Party has locked up well over a million Uygur Muslims.

When President Trump drafted his executive order on August 6, the ban was set to go into effect on September 20 if the platform did not find a western buyer. It has apparently found one, as Silicon Valley’s Oracle Corp. and ByteDance say they have made a deal to secure the platform’s future in the US, but as they have disclosed no details of the deal, it is unclear whether it will meet the President’s demands.

The decision to make a deal with Oracle has also raised more questions about corruption in the Trump Administration, as Oracle was one of the only Silicon Valley tech giants to cozy up to Mr. Trump, with the company’s CEO throwing expensive fundraisers for the Trump Campaign. Even now, on September 16, it is still unclear if the ban will go into effect in four days, but it seems to be a distinct possibility that Oracle’s ties to the President will affect the process.