19 March 2024

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essay

Thinking about the TikTok Ban

For those who may live on under a rock, the US House of Reps voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill last week that would require the parent company of TikTok, ByteDance, to sell the company or face a ban in the United States.

As a regular user of the app and someone skeptical of large organizations with access to extreme amounts of user data, I have mixed feelings on this.

I was born in the late 90’s. I got to watch the after effects of the dot-com boom, and the explosion of the internet played a key role in my childhood. I got a Facebook account way too early because I wanted to play FarmVille with my Mom. In 6th grade I got a Snapchat, and made videos on Youtube before I understood that the internet is forever.

This intrusion on my childhood, and others growing up in the early 2000s, taught a form a media literacy which is akin to what happened after the Gutenberg press. History is cyclic, remember? The internet has gone through multiple cycles like this, where the amount of information available at to the masses has exploded. Along with it, the amount of fabricated content.

To be frank, I worry about the older generations who didn’t have a pivotal experience growing up around all this information. Being able to sift through all this information and begin to decipher what is real, and what isn’t, is a skillset that is difficult to cultivate without intentional effort. My generation began learning it in elementary school computer labs. Older generations are trying to learn on a Facebook feed of their trusted friends sharing articles which may or may not be true.

This brings me to what I think is my main point.

The issue of data safety and misinformation has existed long before TikTok has, with little to be done about it. This bill is rushed, and politically motivated by our distrust of China, piggybacking off recent threats of election integrity and interference (which, might I add, originated from Twitter). If the goal of this legislature is to protect consumer data, they’re doing a piss-poor job. It’s likely that companies like Meta, Google and Twitter engage in the same data-farming practices as TikTok/ByteDance does without the same consequences.

I am conflicted on whose responsibility it is to protect against misinformation on the internet.

Is it the responsibility of the government, like the European Union? If it is, where are lines drawn, and how are practices enforced?

Is it up to the consumer to diversify their information sources and question1 everything they see on the internet? Are people with less media literacy skills left behind?

What about the company that creates the platform? We’ve seen companies like Twitter gut their moderation platforms and fall to ruin with the amount of misinformation being spread. Anyone following Gaza has seen this first hand. This goes to show that without any oversight, social media would be moderated in a way that isn’t conducive to reducing the spread of information.

I hope we are able to try something new soon, but I don’t think what is going on with TikTok is it.

Footnotes
  1. https://cperry248.substack.com/p/reality-distortion-fields

Metadata

Published

Mar 19 2024

Type

essay

Tags

social media, thoughts, politics