Trump stands to benefit in many areas if the US does ban TikTok. The administration has openly said this isn’t about protecting American privacy.
TikTok continues to set records and make headlines but this week, the focal point was on the Trump administration’s comments that the US might ban the app; a choice that could help Trump’s 2020 re-election hopes. TikTok might have had a meaningful impact on the election so far due to creative political commentary from users like Sarah Cooper and the audience the app draws. The fact that the app was created in China could also give Trump more reason to push for restrictions.
Talk of a US TikTok ban began as a slight whisper back in 2019, when the first forms of litigation against the platform started. At the time, US government officials allegedly had evidence that TikTok was providing the Chinese government with user data, but, crucially, that evidence was never made public. TikTok’s representatives said and continue to say that the company will never give information to China’s leadership, and has attempted to drive home that point by making moves such as hiring former Disney executive Kevin Mayer as its CEO and shifting headquarters to California.
While there’s no proof of TikTok having sent data to China, there are still plenty of reasons to be suspicious of the app, just as there’s cause for concern about how tech companies like Google and Facebook do business. What makes TikTok different in terms of the political landscape is that it’s the only Chinese social media app to truly have the popularity to compete with Facebook. For a variety of reasons, many countries are distrusting of China’s government and the demands it places upon businesses operating from within its borders. That, coupled with all the other conflicts countries have with China, is something political leaders like Trump can potentially exploit.
Trump Appeals to Voters With Anti-China Sentiments
A major part of Trump’s campaign rhetoric involves the phrases “tough on China” and “America first”. As an older, Republican presidential candidate, he naturally aims much of his political message toward conservative senior citizens. Culturally, this is a demographic known for coming of age during a period in which America was wary of China and a communist agenda. Now, on the cusp of multiple major tech breakthroughs like advancements in space travel, improved 5G coverage, everyday AI, public high-speed internet, and nationwide adaptation of cryptocurrencies, China is far ahead of the US. It would reflect extremely poorly on the “America first” president if, under his watch, the US was essentially out-classed by its biggest competitor in so many important areas.
Therefore, the more Trump can do to make China seem untrustworthy and generally worse than America, the better he looks as a president. In his comments from last week about potentially banning TikTok, the president stated directly that this would be a retaliatory move against China for the coronavirus. This concept – that China’s handling of the virus in its early stages has endangered American lives – is steeped in some amount of truth, so it functions as a Trump card (pun intended) during this campaign. The administration appears interested in piggy-backing off any American contempt toward China for the pandemic to explain any “tough on China” actions that could appeal to Trump’s base so, naturally, banning the country’s most successful app would be a huge win for him.
Furthermore, TikTok’s role in disrupting some of Trump’s recent rallies could be bigger than it seems. TikTok users reportedly organized to take a large amount of the free tickets to Trump’s infamous Tulsa, Oklahoma campaign rally in June, and one of the app’s breakout stars is making a name for herself spoofing the president. Sarah Cooper’s lip-sync videos aren’t as scathing as, say, direct Trump criticism from other social media influencers, but her work is more viral because of the nature of TikTok. With the attention TikTok gets from its base of young adults who’ll likely be first-time voters come November, having the app banned by then will stop any attempts at a viral, anti-Trump mobilization on the platform.
More: TikTok Reportedly Looking To Distance China Links Amid Ban Discussions
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