TikTok, Surveillance and Imperialism

As social media plays an increasingly large role in our lives, be it through innocuous and idle chatter or political organizing, the state has in turn become increasingly wary of - and in thrall to - its influence. As socialists, we must act to prevent the state from turning the foremost app of oru current time - TikTok - into yet another tool for imperialism.

by | Jun 21, 2023

Many people probably know about the proposed ban on TikTok. Biden, the Democrats, and Republicans are coming together in bipartisan unity to limit free speech. They’re attacking an app that many of us not only use for funny and stupid videos, but also for political education and organizing. They claim this is about “protecting Americans’ data” from dangerous Chinese data spies. The Biden administration has pressured TikTok’s Chinese owners to sell the app to an American company. Is this really about protecting our data from spying? If that’s the case, the US government only needs to look in a mirror to see who’s really stealing Americans’ data.

Domestic spycraft and imperial ambition

In 2014, former CIA analyst Edward Snowden revealed the extent of government spying. The US government has agreements with all major tech companies — Microsoft, Meta/Facebook, Apple, Comcast, Verizon, etc. They share all your private data with the US government, which then stores that data for future use. Private communications aren’t private.
The TikTok ban is not only an attack on our free speech rights, not only an attack on our privacy from government spying. It’s fundamentally another step in the road to open military conflict between the US, China and Russia.
For that truth-telling, Snowden had to flee from the US into exile. Meanwhile, some privacy experts believe the bill in Congress that would ban TikTok, known as the RESTRICT Act, would also ban the very tools we can use to keep our data protected from surveillance — foreign or domestic. They believe the bill would ban things like VPNs, encrypted chats, or any tool that broadly threatens “national security.” So, if it’s not about our privacy and protecting our data, what’s it about? Well, this may shock you, but it’s actually very connected to what’s happening in Ukraine and Taiwan right now. And it gets back to Biden’s demands on TikTok: sell the Chinese app to an American company, or it’ll be banned. Since the end of the Cold War, the US has been the number one superpower in the world. Through free trade agreements and NATO, the US built an interconnected world market with itself at the center. The US maintains over 700 military bases around the world, and plenty of close allies, to police its interests. But over the past twenty years, the world situation hasn’t been frozen in place. Even as the US has tried to maintain its dominance, new rivals have emerged… And its two most serious challengers are China and Russia.

The true target: inter-imperialist competition

China’s billionaires are exploiting workers and building alliances to overtake the US. Russia’s billionaires are exploiting workers and invading Ukraine to overtake the US. And US billionaires are exploiting workers here and trying to maintain their dominance over the world. In Ukraine, Biden has admitted that the US wants to make Russia bleed without bloodying their own hands. Supply just enough weapons to the Ukrainians to exhaust Russia’s military, but not commit the US to directly turning back the invasion. In Taiwan, Biden and Xi Jinping are threatening each other over the head of the small island’s government. Biden committed verbally to sending US troops to Taiwan if China should invade. China has sought to bring the island under its control and expand its sphere of influence. All of this is what socialists call imperialism. Just as corporations compete over the market, nation states compete over the world. As long as capitalism exists, the threat of war constantly hangs over us. Biden doesn’t give two shits about Americans’ data privacy. But he cares about a Chinese tech company competing with American tech companies. He cares about the US surveillance state possibly NOT having access to that data. The TikTok ban is not only an attack on our free speech rights, not only an attack on our privacy from government spying. It’s fundamentally another step in the road to open military conflict between the US, China and Russia. Biden, just like Trump before him, is making us less safe. We must join together with workers and students from China, Russia, Ukraine, Taiwan… everywhere… and end the competition for power happening between our rulers.
E. Reed
(he/him) is a founding member of the Boston Revolutionary Socialists and Firebrand. He has been involved with the revolutionary socialist left since 2011 and is a former member of the International Socialist Organization.

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