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We Don’t Want TikTok Under Control of U.S. Capitalists — Put It Under the Control of its Workers and Users

The U.S. government wants to force the sale of the incredibly popular Chinese social media app. A TikTok owned by U.S. capitalists will only make things worse. We want TikTok under workers’ control!

Nathaniel Flakin

April 6, 2024
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A hand holds a phone which displays the TikTok Logo
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

On March 13, H.R. 7521 passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 352 to 65. President Joe Biden has said he will sign the bill if it passes the Senate. This rare example of bipartisan agreement was about “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications,” as the bill’s title put it. Most people simply refer to it as the TikTok ban.

Only about a third of people in the U.S. support a ban of the incredibly popular social media app — yet some 85 percent of their “Representatives” voted against TikTok. This is a good reminder that bourgeois “democracy” is a sham. Politicians from both parties are rallying around a deeply unpopular cause because they see it as a matter of national security: Americans, they claim, need to be protected from manipulation by the Chinese company ByteDance, owners of TikTok. This is presented as a measure to protect privacy and data.

Almost three fourths of people in the U.S. are in favor of data privacy laws, to prevent companies from tracking us and selling our personal information. Yet the U.S. Congress refuses to do anything that could affect the bottom lines of American billionaires. Their attack on TikTok shows that they are only concerned about our data being used by Chinese companies instead of their American competitors.

TikTok is the number 1 app for people under 25, and it’s where young people get the news. During the last half year of Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza, millions of people have been watching videos of the indescribable suffering — as well as Israeli soldiers joyfully committing war crimes — on TikTok. Young people are largely bypassing bourgeois media which, in the name of “balance” and “objectivity”, often just reprint Israeli army press releases.

The strong correlation here — young people watching TikTok videos and supporting Palestine — has thrown both liberal and conservative pundits into a moral panic. They are convinced that TikTok is a psyop by the Chinese Communist Party that is getting young people to love Hamas, the Houthis, and even Bin Laden, while convincing them that America is evil.

Yet as TikTok argues: “It’s Not the Algorithm, Teens Are Just Pro-Palestine.” And, as The Intercept reports, the FBI admits that they have zero evidence that feeds are being manipulated. (As someone who is too old for TikTok, I can confirm that Instagram is full of pro-Palestine content too, despite attempts by the parent company Meta to censor Palestinian voices and tamp down on political content more generally.)

The reasons that young people in the U.S. are turning against imperialism, and its Zionist agent, are complex. Today’s young people grew up in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, knowing they would likely be poorer than their parents. They are burdened with debt just to access education or health care. They have witnessed a forever war, waged in the name of freedom, that only benefits U.S. corporations. While they are told there is no money to end child poverty, their tax dollars fund an endless supply of weapons to Israel’s far-right government to commit genocide.

And yes, technology has made it easier to find evidence of racist violence by the U.S. state both at home and abroad. But that is only one component in a shift.

All that said, socialists should not be naive about ByteDance. It has not created a psyop to mobilize the oppressed — TikTok is a psyop for generating profits. Their algorithm is designed to keep users hooked to their screens to generate advertising revenue. 

We oppose any anti-Chinese racism. U.S. social media companies are objectively a bigger danger to U.S. users because they readily share the data they gather with police agencies. A sale of TikTok to U.S. capitalists would mean an even greater concentration of data about us in the hands of companies like Meta.

Yet Chinese social media companies are also profit-generating machines working hand in hand with a capitalist state. While the People’s Republic of China was once a degenerated workers’ state, run by a Stalinist bureaucracy that violently suppressed all forms of working-class democracy, it has since transformed itself into a capitalist state that serves the interests of billionaires. It is a mistake when groups like the Party for Socialism and Liberation, out of a justified rejection of the U.S. capitalist class, hold up foreign capitalist governments like China as allies of the working class.The owners of social media have vast power to influence public opinion (even if they aren’t exactly brainwashing teenagers). We don’t want social media apps under the control of U.S. or foreign capitalists. Instead, tech workers and users should control the media democratically. We support the expropriation of Meta, Google, and also ByteDance, so that workers control the algorithms.

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Nathaniel Flakin

Nathaniel is a freelance journalist and historian from Berlin. He is on the editorial board of Left Voice and our German sister site Klasse Gegen Klasse. Nathaniel, also known by the nickname Wladek, has written a biography of Martin Monath, a Trotskyist resistance fighter in France during World War II, which has appeared in German, in English, and in French, and in Spanish. He has also written an anticapitalist guide book called Revolutionary Berlin. He is on the autism spectrum.

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