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July 9, 2024, 11 a.m.
Planet TikTok
Planet TikTok
['TikTok', 'app', 'China', 'Chinese', 'company']

One way to understand the origins of TikTok is to consider two train rides that took place on opposite ends of the globe. The first was in Beijing in 2011. Zhang Yiming, a twenty-eight-year-old entrepreneur, was on the subway when he noticed that nobody was r…

Planet TikTok

Ai, the average American TikTok user spent about twenty-nine hours a month on the app in 2022, more than Facebook and Instagram combined. If data is the new oil, the business school professor Scott Galloway wrote that year, TikTok provides "Sweet crude like the world has never seen, ready to be algorithmically refined into rocket fuel." TikTok emerged from a powerful fusion: ByteDance's recommendation algorithm and Musical. "This is the new American dream." On TikTok, people are dreaming well beyond American borders: everyone on the platform is competing for views and clicks in the emerging global attention economy. In August 2020, concerned that the Chinese government could use TikTok to access sensitive data or exploit it to spread propaganda, the Trump administration issued an executive order calling on ByteDance to sell the app or be banned in the US. A platform once praised as a divinatory meme machine was now seen as a geopolitical Trojan horse, enabling the Chinese Communist Party to steal data and brainwash children. If TikTok is banned, the American Internet will also become more detached from places where the app remains woven into the fabric of online life, from Southeast Asia to the Middle East. "Removing TikTok would do more than disrupt entertainment," Dominic Andre, a Palestinian TikTok creator, wrote in The Guardian that month. If the US can ban TikTok, Ma, the tech analyst, told me, "Other countries will definitely do it, too." A Russian opposition blogger claimed that the Russian government could shut down services like YouTube; a lawyer at the New Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Center told The New York Times that the Indian government would use the ban as another justification for cracking down on dissent.

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