TikTok Ban: Unmasking Meta's Machiavellian Maneuvers

Juan Villela

It’s no secret that Meta has battled with countless data privacy concerns over the years. With a history littered with instances of third-party surveillance conducted via its platform—without the knowledge or consent of its users—Meta has remained tethered to the notion of seemingly unregulated control over vast reservoirs of user data.

Isn’t it unsettling that the platform, meant to bring us closer, instead acts as a morally indifferent middleman, allowing companies to hijack our online lives?

But one doesn’t need to dissect the intricacies of this data privacy malfeasance to spot another striking issue lurking within Meta’s vast web: the disturbing knack of amplifying and promoting content that sows division, fuels misinformation, and propagates hate. If you need proof, let’s take a nostalgia-inducing trip to the crisis in Myanmar, where Facebook’s platforms were used as breeding grounds for incitement, leading to horrifying real-world consequences such as violence and mass displacement.

The way Facebook has handled these grave issues, it is as if there is a sense of unchecked power driving their decisions—a scary thought when you consider the impact these decisions have on the global dissemination and consumption of information. Yet, in more recent times, this echo chamber of Meta’s rule has felt the shockwaves of a new entrant—TikTok.

Is it any surprise, then, that this Silicon Valley titan—sensing a formidable challenger— instigated, orchestrated, and executed a smear campaign against its newest competitor? The aim was simple but sinister: to stir the cauldron of ‘moral panic’ around TikTok. A flagrant step, even for repetitive line-steppers, like Meta.

Recruiting the consulting firm Targeted Victory to perform the unsavory task, Meta meticulously engineered a complex plan involving negative narratives about TikTok. Their strategy exploited real and perceived issues, predominantly, concerns associated with child safety and data privacy. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Meta, a company faced with similar controversies not too long ago, had adopted such an offensive tactic to secure its position.

Surprisingly, the outcome is not one many of us anticipated. Unequivocal success. A top-tier demonstration of manipulation has led to our current state of affairs: a government proposal to ban TikTok.

If we poke holes into how this ban was brought about, we reveal a writhing underbelly of xenophobia. Throughout the hearings to determine TikTok’s future, it wasn’t unusual to hear senators make racist remarks, often blurring the line between legitimate political discourse and full-blown xenophobia.

It’s through this lens that it becomes evident that the TikTok debacle is nothing more than an unsightly growth stemming from the seed of xenophobia planted and nurtured by our very own administration. The ban, while outwardly appearing as a means to safeguard national interests, instead serves to further a narrative that appropriates blame and fingers China as the villain du jour—a strategy as old as it is stale.

There’s clear evidence of Russian interference with the 2016 elections. I didn’t see the same fervor trying to prevent that from happening again. Oh, and it did in the 2020 elections.

But the Biden administration, having been handed the baton, now finds themselves having to navigate through this intricate labyrinth of how this ban impacts the US-China relationships. The government’s approach, however, has been less than transparent, leading to growing criticism.

In the light of these recent actions against TikTok and the company’s reaction, it raises significant questions about the digital battlefield being drawn, the stakeholders, their strategies, and the endgame. If unchecked, this could indeed ignite a new digital Cold War, an ominous prospect in our increasingly connected world.

And now, here we are. Teetering on the edge of what could be another transformative digital era. But as we navigate this changing landscape, let’s not forget to scrutinize, dig deep, and insist on transparency at every turn. Because in the grand scheme of things, we’re not the masters of our fate, but merely pieces moved about in the intricate chess match of the digital realm.

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