Why China’s TikTok is a national security concern


TikTok, the short-form video app that’s been downloaded 1.5 billion times, is one of the most exciting and goofiest places on the internet, and possibly the only truly fun social media network in 2019, notes It is also based in China — and that’s the part that has some users, and now, politicians, concerned, she writes for Vox:

  • One of the more problematic implications is a 2017 Chinese law, which requires Chinese companies to comply with government intelligence operations if asked. That means that companies based in China have little recourse to decline should the government request to access data.
  • The second is what the Chinese Communist Party might do with that data. Samantha Hoffman, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute told The Verge that “The [Communist] Party of China collects bulk data overseas and then uses it to help with things that relate to state security like propaganda and identifying public sentiment to understand how people feel about a particular issue,” she said. “It’s about controlling the media environment globally. Once you have control, you can use it to influence and shape the conversation.”

“The Chinese government has a history of gaining control over nodes in the information system,” added Sarah Cook, a senior research analyst for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan at Freedom House, a National Endowment for Democracy (NED) partner. “They don’t always mobilize them right away to harm freedom of expression, until something threatening happens and then they do. It seems clear TikTok is censoring information related to the Hong Kong protests, but at the same time, even if it’s not happening that much now, it’s really only a matter of time before it does,” she told Vox’s Open Sourced.

The renewed concern about TikTok coincides with reports that Taiwan is at the frontier of information warfare as the territory most exposed to foreign disinformation. Taiwan is the target of a Russian-style disinformation campaign by China to exploit social divisions and undermine democracy in the lead-up to the presidential election in January, Alice Su reports for The Los Angeles Times.

India’s internet shutdown in Kashmir, which entered its 134th day Monday, is now the longest ever imposed in a democracy, according to Access Now, an international advocacy group that tracks Internet suspensions. Only authoritarian regimes such as China and Myanmar have cut off the Internet for longer, The Washington Post reports.

US politicians’ concern over TikTok began with an investigation the Guardian published on September 25, which revealed leaked documents that showed TikTok instructing its moderators to censor videos that mentioned topics sensitive to the Communist Party of China: Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, and the religious group Falun Gong, for instance, Jennings notes. In early October, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called for a formal investigation into whether TikTok poses a national security risk, she adds. RTWT

In “Disinformation in the Global Arena,” Power 3.0 Podcast guest Peter Pomerantsev examines how changes in the modern information environment have been exploited by malign actors and facilitated the spread of disinformation around the world, the NED’s International Forum adds…..

New applications have emerged from within authoritarian settings, where the space for independent scrutiny and pressure is sharply limited. Dean Jackson’s Power 3.0 Blog post, “Parallel Platforms, Parallel Principles: The Emergence of Social Media from Authoritarian Settings,” analyzes the fragmenting information landscape where authoritarian manipulation of political discourse is enabled.

In a Power 3.0 Blog post entitled “‘Conformation Bias’: Political Tribalism as a Driver of Disinformation,” Peter Kreko argues that disinformation and conspiracy theories are spreading more widely and quickly because they serve as important weapons in the context of political tribalism, which has emerged in highly polarized political environments to justify any means necessary to defeat the other “tribe.”

Darko Brkan’s Power 3.0 Blog post on “Exploring Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Disinformation Hub” discusses the inner mechanics of disinformation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider Balkan region, and identifies key problem areas and avenues for more research into this increasingly common phenomenon.


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