Some background: TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social platforms in the world. It is enormously popular among young people, and is growing at a speed that makes it a rival of Instagram, Snapchat, and other established platforms.
Unfortunately, it is owned by a Chinese company and subject to Chinese laws — meaning American user data is at the mercy of the Chinese Communist party, and American users get
censored to please the same party. Because of this, the Trump administration has threatened to ban TikTok in the U.S.
Given the power that tech platforms have over public discourse, the flow of information, and their invasive data collection practices, the administration should feel confident in taking heavy-handed measures to protect the Americans who use them. I hope they find the courage to be similarly heavy-handed against Google and other big tech companies, particularly on the issues of censorship and election interference.
Sadly, the administration’s new “solution” to the TikTok problem suggests they will not be.
That solution is to have TikTok’s U.S. operations be purchased by Microsoft — another far-left tech company that is sure to hoover up user data and censor its users.
Remember when Microsoft threatened to boot Gab off its cloud servers for allowing constitutionally protected speech on its platform? More pertinent to the present debate, remember when Microsoft censored its own services to please China? Is Microsoft control of TikTok really an improvement on Chinese control? I have doubts!
If Microsoft really wants to buy TikTok, and it seems that it does — the company’s CEO
personally phoned President Trump to persuade him to let the sale talks continue — that presents a historic opportunity for the administration to demand concessions.
Put simply, if Microsoft really wants Trump to allow the sale, that allows Trump to make some demands of Microsoft.
That’s how negotiation works. Trump, as a master dealmaker, should know this.
First and foremost should be a
legally binding commitment (not a promise or a handshake) that Microsoft will not censor First Amendment protected speech on behalf of its American users.
That doesn’t mean Microsoft can’t give its users opt-in filters, or offer a family-friendly version of TikTok, much in the same way that Google offers users an optional “safe search” button to block obscene content. But the crucial difference between this and blanket bans on so-called “hate speech” is that it is the
user who decides whether to opt-in to the filter.
Forcing Microsoft to do this would create a social media behemoth that is legally obliged to protect free speech. It will certainly be a smash-hit success, forcing other social media platforms to reconsider their censorship policies.
The fact that the Trump administration hasn’t made this one of the conditions of Microsoft’s talks with TikTok suggests that the administration either doesn’t take tech censorship seriously, or doesn’t understand it.
Given that censorship and election interference from Big Tech companies is perhaps the number-one threat to Trump’s re-election chances, that should be very worrisome to Trump supporters.
Most likely, this is a result of the debate being dominated by “National Security” Republicans and China hawks. They’ve never considered free speech to be a big priority. Just look at Marco Rubio —
he previously said he thinks policing of “hate speech” on social media is a good thing.
Rubio is one of the people who led the push against TikTok, in part by
highlighting the platform’s censorship of content on behalf of the Chinese.
He’s never been anywhere close to as vocal about Silicon Valley’s homegrown censorship, which has far more of an impact on ordinary Americans, especially conservative Americans whose put Rubio and other Republicans in office. One could be forgiven for thinking that Rubio cares more about censorship in China than censorship in America.
And what about Trump’s top advisers?
According to insiders, senior White House advisers including economic adviser Larry Kudlow, attorney General William Barr, and Kellyanne Conway, all pushed President Trump to let Microsoft proceed with the deal after he initially floated a full-scale ban on the platform.
Why did none of these advisers advise Trump to demand a commitment from Microsoft (again, a
binding commitment, not a handshake agreement ) not to censor Americans? If they did so, why has such a commitment not materialized?
If the administration wants to persuade voters that it is serious about protecting the free speech rights of Americans in the digital public square, why is it failing to act on such an obvious and important opportunity?
Are you an insider at Google, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, or any other tech company who wants to confidentially reveal wrongdoing or political bias at your company? Reach out to Allum Bokhari at his secure email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. His book #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election is out in September.