Lack of Privacy or Lack of Democracy?


Washington Post

Under the allegations that TikTok, a video-sharing app used mostly by teens, threatens national security in the United States, President Trump’s administration threatened to ban it. Trump claims, without any proof, that the app is effectively spyware. Using misinformation regarding COVID-19, the Trump administration released an executive order on August 6th which stated, “This mobile application [TikTok] may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, such as when TikTok videos spread debunked conspiracy theories about the origins of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.” Ironically, Facebook has been to trial due to allegations that the company sells user data for political and economic purposes, yet it faces no similar threat of prohibition. Not to mention, Trump himself has spread misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic – so much so that many of his posts were removed from social media for this very reason. Criticizing TikTok’s way of handling misinformation is reasonable, necessary even. However banning it under this straw man argument is hypocritical at best, and sets a dangerous precedent at worst. 

On June 20th of this year, history was made. Donald Trump held a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma – amidst a global pandemic – which had its fair share of controversies. Yet what was truly exceptional about this particular rally isn’t the event itself, but what TikTok users and K-pop stans did to prevent it. In an effort to flap back against Trump’s threats, they reserved tickets for the rally and didn’t attend. Trump expected “almost a million” people to attend, instead, he had a measly audience of just under 6,200 people. According to CBS News, the president was “frustrated and angry” over the turnout of events, thanks to a “secret campaign on TikTok”. The event– or lack thereof –  was so impressive that even, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) tweeted in reply, “Actually you just got ROCKED by teens on TikTok who (…) tricked you into believing a million people wanted your white supremacist open mic enough to pack an arena during COVID. Shout out to Zoomers. Y’all make me so proud.” 

The app has also been used by activists, mostly teenagers, to spread awareness on crises such as Uyghur “re-education” camps in China, repression and fraudulent elections in Belarus, the civil war in Yemen, and police brutality around the world. Links to donation sites are easily accessible and shareable via the app, so much so that several petitions for justice and equality have garnered massive recognition and signatures in the past year. 

To add fuel to this ongoing ‘war’, Donald Trump has demonstrated a very racist posture against Asians. He has encouraged the use of “Kung Flu” as a nickname for the coronavirus, which offensively links the virus and its subsequent pandemic to Eastern Asia, with the intent of blaming the pandemic on Asians. This is inherently racist since not only does it involve the generalization of the Asian people but it also implicites that the fault of the pandemic is on Asians, both of which are utterly factually incorrect and morally wrong. World Health Organization guidelines, in fact, warn against promoting labels that could stigmatize an entire region. Furthermore, Donald Trump has made various racist and xenophobic comments for years, with offenses to Asian, Latine, and African people and their descendants. With this in mind, it is important to remember that Facebook has been to trial for misuse of user information, the same reason why Trump wants to ban TikTok. However, Facebook has never been threatened to be banned, and thus, many identify Trump’s xenophobia as one reason for the prohibition. 

Personally, TikTok has become one of my main news outlets because of its easy and fast way of consuming news. For example, the cost of reliable news from big newspapers is considerable, especially because there are dozens of newspapers, and lots of them cost money to read. Since TikTok videos are fast and free to use, there is less need for subscribing to multiple news outlets. Of course, a 60 second TikTok video won’t cover the same amount of depth a whole article will, but it is a free and fast way to consume news, and then research more reliable and deeper articles on the topic.

TikTok users haven’t committed any more crimes than users of other social media apps. TikTok should have the same treatment as all other big social media apps, yet this is not what is happening. Clearly, Trump has personal issues with TikTok, otherwise, he and his administration would maintain its position, which has been of amnesty to misinformation spreading, hate speech, and political use of user data. President Trump’s banning of TikTok shall not be understood as anything but the violation of First Amendment rights protected by the US Constitution. It is clear that banning an app such as TikTok, with no meaningful, coherent reason, and no evidence for such, violates the right to freedom of speech, to freedom of the press, to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. 

Donald Trump might allege that the reason he is trying to ban TikTok is because he cares about users’ privacy, but that was never the case. The truth is that he fears teens. He fears anyone that might denounce his misconduct, and it has become clear that Generation Z (Zoomers) has a huge part in doing that. Gen Z is eager to change the world, and several changes, in areas that range from the protection of the environment to the protection of oppressed groups, have been accomplished because of this will to change.

Over and over, history has seen people, especially young people, standing up against injustice. Over and over, we have also seen the suppression of movements that threaten to end the Status Quo. With this in mind, it is without a doubt that I say that structural change will always come with difficulties – and attempts of counter-reaction. But the conservation of an unjust system cannot speak louder than morality. Threatening democracy in the name of nationalism is not moral – or acceptable. Tolerating what Trump’s administration is doing is contributing to the dismantling of democracy.