“The proliferation of applications controlled by the Chinese government continues to threaten U.S. national security, foreign relations and the economy,” the orders said. “The U.S. must take aggressive action against the owners of Tiktok to protect national security.”
Add to national security some arguments about fighting pornography, and you get the usual Chinese propaganda. Similar to Chinese propaganda, even in the case of Trump there is no connection between the official cause and the real one. His attack has nothing to do with national security, and as usual with Trump, everything is personal: part of his economic war in China, and to a considerable extent also revenge for the ego damage that Tiktok users caused him a few weeks ago.
The real problem, however, is not the orders themselves but what they symbolize: part of a broader move by the Trump administration, known as the Orvilleian “clean network.” This program is designed to completely block apps from China and crush one of the basic principles that have been at the heart of the Internet since its earliest days.
Trump’s two presidential decrees ban deals with ByteDance, Tiktok’s parent company, and Chinese Internet giant Tennett, which operates Wichett. The latter functions as an instant messaging app, but in practice is a diverse and powerful service that also allows payments, consumption of services, updating in the news and more. The meaning of the orders, which will take effect 45 days after they are signed, is not entirely clear. This is because the administration has not yet defined the meaning of “deal” in orders.
If the ban is widely enforced, it could hurt the activities of companies such as Walmart and Starbucks in China, which market products and receive payments via Wicket. If the order means a ban on displaying and distributing the apps or advertising through them, Apple and Google will be required to remove them from their app stores and American businesses will be prohibited from advertising in them. As mentioned, at the moment these issues are still unclear and equally it is possible that the order will have no practical consequences since these are things that are outside Trump’s power to determine in a presidential order.
In any scenario the move will not go unnoticed, and Tiktok has already announced that it will appeal against the decision. “For almost a year we have been seeking to contact the U.S. government to provide solutions, but we have encountered a government that does not attach importance to facts, dictates terms without going through standard legal processes and without negotiation,” the company said in a statement. The law will not be abandoned and our users will be treated fairly. If not by the administration, then by the courts. ”
Despite its correctness, it is possible that in the end Tiktok will not be required to fight a lawsuit. Microsoft is currently in advanced negotiations to purchase the app’s activity from BiteDance, and if the deal is completed before the orders go into effect, Stiktok will take advantage of the sanctions.
As mentioned, one of Trump’s considerations for signing the decrees has to do with the humiliation he suffered courtesy of ticketing users last June. In the run-up to an election rally in Oklahoma, campaign organizers have announced a record attendance after more than a million ticket requests were received. The preparations were for full occupancy in the 19,000-seat stadium and the arrangement of additional seating and huge screens outside the hall to allow for extra attendance.
In practice, only 6,200 people attended the event, not including employees and journalists. What happened? Tiktok users initiated a sophisticated protest in which they made hundreds of thousands of fake registrations for participation cards – which led to an inflation of the organizers’ expectations and possibly also to an injury to the number of participants in the rally. The result was a particularly embarrassing moment, in which the president, accustomed to speaking in front of crowded auditoriums, was forced to speak in front of a mostly empty stadium, and later to see the embarrassing pictures on various television broadcasts. Trump has a new Nemesis born and it is no coincidence that his attacks on the app began after that incident.
Another consideration is the economic war that Trump has waged against China almost since entering the White House, which has included imposing tariffs on goods from the superpower and boycotting technology companies like Wavi and ZTE. In this context, restricting the activity of the only Chinese app that has managed to gain a significant foothold in the West fits well with this war and efforts to limit the economic activity of Chinese companies in the US.
Unlike Tiktok, most of 1.2 billion Wi-Fi users are in China itself and blocking the app in the US will not have a significant economic impact on its operations or Tencent revenue. “China’s Bridge to the World.” Overseas students use it to talk to family at home, immigrants use it to keep in touch with relatives, and it is used by most Chinese speakers around the world to talk to each other. Those who can benefit to some extent from the blockage are
The authorities in China in particular.
Blocking Wichett in the US will sever many users in China from a significant connection with their relatives and close an important window that connects the country to the Western world. Wichett is under the control of the Chinese regime and censors content, but is still one of the few Filtered from elsewhere. Its blockade in the United States will make it easier for the Communist Party in its efforts to prevent access to information beyond its absolute control, and in effect to create a network that is disconnected and separate from the rest of the Internet.
Such an impact is perhaps the most frightening thing in Trump’s course. Since its commercial use in the 1990s, the most basic principle of the network is that no matter where in the world users are, it is still a single network with identical content and the ability to chat freely. This principle, which has never been fully true but has often been true enough, is under attack, mainly by countries such as China, Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Now, the Trump administration is also adding the U.S. to the dubious list of countries working to crush the principle, and it’s not just about the latest presidential decrees. Earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for the removal of all Chinese apps from U.S. app stores. “With parent companies in China, apps like Tiktok, Wichette and others pose a significant threat to the personal information of American citizens, not to mention tools of the Communist Party for content censorship,” he explained. At the same time, the State Department is expected to work with other government bodies to limit the capabilities of Chinese cloud services to collect, store or process information in the United States. Of maintaining national security.
If Trump’s current move is implemented and expanded, it would be tantamount to a large-scale censorship, the first of its kind in the West, of the network. One that shares too many uncomfortable characteristics with less democratic countries, to say the least.
Despite the deterioration in its international image under Trump, the United States still has considerable cultural and social capital. If it does take these extreme measures, there will be quite a few countries that will feel comfortable following it and implementing their own censorship and blocking policies. From state to state and region to region, ones that are more like limited internal networks than a single global network.
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