Is there a double standard between the treatment of TikTok versus other social media companies?

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

Following the March 23, 2023 Congressional hearing featuring TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s testimony, we at the Technique Editorial Board wish to discuss the data and privacy issues discussed in the hearing, as well as the context and underlying elements that influenced the widely governmental hearing. 

One element to note is the double standard that was created around social media access to personal data. Members of Congress grilled Chew about issues such as the possibility of the Chinese government gaining access to American citizens’ data via TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, which originates from China. However, many of the concerns discussed during the hearing alluded to the existence of a double standard because they are applicable to any social media company, such as Facebook or Instagram, which data mine in similar manners.

The discussions between the Congressional committee and Chew seemed to veer away from a productive conversation about safety and towards a means to publicly attack China and further the creation of a common enemy of the Chinese government. 

The verbiage and treatment directed towards Chew during the hearing came across as condescending and interruptive at best and xenophobic and bigoted at worst. As a whole, the U.S. Government’s demonization of the Chinese government has functioned as the cultivation of a mass form of mob mentality.

By using difficult verbiage and fear mongering, it is easy to convince the American populace that the Chinese government is constantly looking for vulnerabilities within the government and is out to get our personal data and information. 

Regardless of the validity of the questions of data security that were brought up at the hearing, the racial undertones of the questions aimed at Chew seem to work to instill an abstract fear
in the American people of China rather than working to pinpoint serious and concrete issues of vulnerabilities in America’s security.

The anti-China rhetoric that has been especially notable in the past six to eight months has not been anti-Chinese policies or anti-Chinese state, but anti-Chinese people. 

This phenomenon has been increasingly apparent in the past few years and COVID-19 saw an uptick in hate crimes against Asian people across the nation.

The U.S. government has long exhibited wariness of countries like China, which are exhibiting rapid growth, industrialization or prosperity. Much of this demonization of China as a common enemy comes from a fear of war with a country on equal footing as the United State. However, these very same policies are what are pushing us towards a potential military confrontation. 

The United States is no stranger to proxy wars, cold wars and culture wars. However, with the vast Asian-American, specifically Chinese-American population, in the United States, many citizens stand to be affected by such social warfare. 

TikTok does, however, have the capacity to collect very specific information about its users, such as race demographics, locales, interests and more due to liked videos, music and other elements unique to the application. 

One of these is the speed at which content can be consumed and created on the app, namely with the short-form nature of videos that encourage users to constantly be on the app to keep up with trends and new content.

This information has, in the past, been a  great asset for advertising companies, so the concern for outside governments using this information to “spy” on the American populace is not a completely unfounded fear. 

That said, there still exists the question of whether this concern should result in the denigration and possible banning of an app that is currently being used by 150 million people across America. We strongly oppose the banning of the application especially since many American companies collect the same data.

The bill proposed by Congress, chock-full of nebulous language and extreme sentencing, is demonstrative of a “war on technology” being incited by the U.S. government on China. 

While it is completely valid to expect data privacy measures, the methods of enacting such legislation must be brought away from fear mongering to be effective.