TikTok and the Open Web Retreat
Washington's matchup vs TikTok has lasted three years and two administrations. Now, after CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before the US Congress on Marwhato and signs of cross-party consensus around an impending ban, the battle may soon be over. This looming victory for the China hawks in DC marks a retreat from a longstanding commitment to an open internet. In its place, US lawmakers are embracing a techno-nationalist ideology that bears an uncanny resemblance to China's.
In the 2000s, the US adopted a liberal-democratic approach to internet governance based on a core belief in the value of freedom, transparency and decentralization. The ambitions of this open web were global. Social media platforms, although mostly based in the San Francisco Bay Area, resembled international public spheres. In 2009, the Green Movement in Iran became known as one of the first "Twitter revolutions", as protesters organized on the platform. The following year, social networks facilitated popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, as disaffected citizens rallied against government corruption during the Arab Spring.
The extent to which social media actually caused or accelerated these political movements has always been a matter of contention, but non-democratic governments – especially China's – saw threats to regime stability inherent in the open web and took very real action. Fearing that US-owned networked platforms could allow a "Peaceful Evolution" in which America would covertly and nonviolently overthrow the Communist Party, the Chinese state built an increasingly strict censorship apparatus. And when the Arab revolutions actually echoed China's Jasmine Revolution in February 2011, with citizens calling for anti-government protests on social media, The government quickly issued orders stricter control of the internet.
Not only has Beijing rejected the open web, but it has also articulated its own vision for Dominance in cyber space. First in White Paper of the Council of State of 2010 and then to safety legislation in cyberspace and in President Xi Jinping's official speeches, officials promoted the idea that there are many Internet separated by digital borders and patrolled by governmental actors.
Washington now appears to be pursuing its own version of cyber sovereignty, plucked straight from Beijing's (and, arguably, Moscow's) handbook. China hawks are eager to portray TikTok as a national security threat, even though such accusations they are often hypothetical and rarely substantiated, making them sound strangely like paranoid Beijing ideologues. Congress will likely ban implementation through it White House approval Deed limitation, a bill introduced by Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, with bipartisan support. But its scope is widening much further TikTok. If passed, this bill would authorize the Commerce Department to ban any technology from "Foreign Opponents" This threatens national security. In addition to jeopardizing First Amendment principles, the bill potentially criminalizes The use of digital security tools, such as virtual private networks, to bypass restrictions.
This new outlook may have more to do with money than ideology. Policymakers' support for the vision of the open web has always been supported in part by their belief that American private innovators and companies were sufficiently superior to maintain their dominance of the market. TikTok, owned by Bytedance based in Beijing, is undermining this long-standing cause. The threat of foreign competition makes it increasingly attractive to discard old ideologies of protectionism in the name of national security.
The open web was never perfect. "Twitter revolutions" in the Middle East and beyond have largely failed. In the West, too, anti-democratic corners of the internet have flourished, creating Jihadist radicalization, Electoral manipulationand Misinformation about vaccines. However, none of this is proof of the essential bankruptcy of the open web vision. Pessimists in Washington, who support a techno-nationalist approach to internet governance, have set the country up for sacrificing the creativity and power of a web dedicated to free expression and open competition between platforms. Would the US have become a social media leader in recent decades if the growth of its startups had been constrained by vague, shifting notions of "national security"? Change Our values to fit the competitive landscape are backwards. Democracies must work to win on their own terms.