TikTok: Trojan Stallion

This is a great post by Scott Galloway warning about the influence of TikTok. Some have accused it of fear-mongering, but do read the whole thing and see what you think. Here are a few key points:

  • TikTok has over a billion users. This includes ‘nearly every U.S. teenager and half their parents’. The average monthly hours spent on it per user are way higher than for the other social networks. And the amount of data gathered about every interaction is vast.

  • All of its data are readily available to the Chinese government. TikTok is not actually allowed to operate in China, though, so this is purely data gathered about people in the rest of the world.

  • “Facebook is the most powerful espionage vehicle ever created and now China commands the most powerful propaganda tool”. The Russians have become very good at manipulating Facebook and Twitter, but the process is still much harder for Putin than it is for Xi Jinping.

So, Galloway warns, small changes in the configuration of the TikTok algorithms — just a thumb resting on the scale — can have a massive influence:

Dial up wholesome-looking American teens with TikTok accounts railing against the evils of capitalism. Dial down the Chinese immigrant celebrating the freedoms afforded in America. Push Trump supporter TikToks about guns and gay marriage into the feeds of liberals. Find misguided woke-cancel-culture TikToks and put them in heavy rotation for every moderate Republican. Feed the Trumpists more conspiracy theories. Anyone with a glass-half-empty message gets more play; content presenting a more optimistic view of our nation gets exiled. Hand on scale.

The network is massive, the ripple effects hidden in the noise. Putting a thumb the size of TikTok on the scale can move nations. What will have more influence on our next generation’s view of America, democracy, and capitalism? The bully pulpit of the president, the executive editor of the New York Times, or the TikTok algorithm?

Sobering stuff…

Thanks to the footnotes in John Naughton’s Observer column for the link.

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