It’s an irresistible twist in the Trump administration’s four-year diplomatic spit with Beijing, and comes from Trump, who is pressuring other countries to take a tougher line against China.
However, critics fear that Trump’s recent attempts to get a grip on China could set a dangerous, anti-democratic precedent for governments’ attempts to control the way citizens use the internet. This is welcomed by the leaders of countries where democracy is already in decline.
“Restricting the Internet and impairing people’s ability to criticize power is not unprecedented worldwide. It has happened in India, Iran and various parts of Africa,” said Nanjala Nyabola, an author and political analyst referring to Specializes in politics in the digital age. “What people are struggling with is the fact that it is happening in the US. When a country like the US begins to undermine the ideas of democracy, of course it opens the door for other countries to do the same.”
At first glance, this may seem like a dramatic analysis, considering the comparisons in Iran and Africa, where people are arrested for expressing dissent online. All Trump is talking about is removing certain platforms from the American internet.
It is the fact that this happens in the democratic figurehead that makes Trump’s move so remarkable. “Any time Western leaders undermine free speech and the movement of ideas across borders for no good reason, the cause of civil liberties is undermined,” said Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham. “It makes it a little easier for governments that want to restrict social media – in Iran, Turkey, Tanzania – to turn off critical voices.”
Whether Trump, as Cheeseman puts it, has good reasons to switch off TikTok is open to debate. TikTok is owned by a private Chinese company called ByteDance. TikTok itself does not operate in China and in the case of the US, TikTok claims that user data is stored on servers in the US.
They fear that the platform could be used to spread misinformation in the US. And ultimately, they believe the term private company is relative in China, the autocratic superpower currently in contact with America.
There is also some irony in the idea that if TikTok in the United States were tossed it off the internet, it would in some ways act like China, whose government is carefully censoring what its citizens can do online. Some of America’s largest tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google, are banned in China.
“It is important that all steps taken are in line with democratic values … and are communicated as part of the further development of a democratic information space – not just to combat authoritarian threats,” said Laura Rosenberger, Director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and Senior Fellow at the Marshall Fund for the USA. “It is important that the US does not take steps that isolate us and create the sovereign information model that Beijing wants and that would weaken democracy.”
Nyabola believes the TikTok debacle and the consequences it could have for US democracy must be seen in the context of Trump’s four-year term. “In the course of the Trump administration, things that were once taboo have normalized. They have disrupted institutions like the attorney general’s office in relation to investigations against the president. What might that look like for countries that want to remain silent in order to silence government critics . ” is worried. ”
True to this form, Trump himself announced his highly unusual opinion in his proclamations on TikTok that the US finance department should receive a “substantial amount of money” for the contract in the event of a contract between Microsoft and ByteDance.
“Whether it’s Microsoft or someone else, or if it’s the Chinese – what the price is, the United States could – should get a very large percentage of that price. Because we’re making it happen,” he said.
Aside from the fact that there is no obvious legal mechanism through which Trump could accomplish this, and that this has not been mentioned in executive order, the fact that he believes his administration deserves a setback for a deal is revealing.
“Trump’s request for finance to profit from the sale of TikTok to Microsoft is a problem, as is the case in failed states or banana republics, where warlords or quasi-rulers get kickbacks from companies based on customer agreements to get them approved said Joe Robinson, a graduate student at Cambridge University who specializes in modern statehood in the digital age.
The TikTok dispute will no doubt reverberate in the media. And as trivial as blocking a social media platform may seem, it should always be remembered that the world is watching when the President of the United States does something. Even if Trump finds his way and TikTok is banned, Cheeseman said the U.S. will still present the Chinese government with a propaganda console award. “Blocking a foreign-owned platform for flimsy reasons would put the US on a similar level to China. The next time America complains about China’s wall of internet censorship, the Communist Party can turn around and say,” We’re doing it. ” the same as you.”