Will TikTok influence the elections?

Will TikTok influence the elections?

The social platform TikTok remains in the news. It has become part of the US-China trade battle. President Trump calls the company with the Chinese mother ByteDance a threat to national security.

That sounds a bit exaggerated and many Americans, but Europeans certainly also dismiss it as election rhetoric. Trump is doing poorly in the polls and has totally failed to curb Covid-19. The Americans are doing worse in this area than any Western country.

But still, but still, it's too easy to stop at that. Platforms such as TikTok can indeed pose a danger to politics and society. We'll take a few steps back to re-establish where TikTok's success is based. The first factor is that of the video. On average, we are more sensitive to moving images than to the written word. TikTok appeals to this need. Moreover, it offers everyone the opportunity to create videos themselves and upload them to the platform.

By the way, TikTok is anything but fair about that. The platform is not a platform a la Facebook. It is based on Artificial Intelligence. In this way, TikTok ensures that only the best and most beautiful films are offered to the widest possible audience.

So far, so good, you would say. That is not so nice, even discriminatory, but not a threat to national security? Conservative historian Niall Ferguson finds that shrugging a bit too easy. In a long article on the Bloomberg website, he points out what he sees as real dangers.

A real danger in his eyes is that TikTok binds young people and especially girls to them by serving up what they want to see. The algorithms are the key here. That makes TikTok very attractive to pedophiles. The app allows them to send girls explicit messages. That is not an accusation, because in February of this year a man of 35 was arrested in Los Angeles who had had raunchy conversations with at least 21 girls, the youngest of whom was barely 9 years old.

According to Ferguson, there is an even greater danger in TikTok than pedophiles. He thinks TikTok is part of the cultural war that China is waging against the West and Western liberalism. Technology and certainly Artificial Intelligence are an essential part of this battle. Chinese AI startups are therefore implementers of Beijing's plans. They export the technology to the rest of the world in order to influence opinions, which a company like TikTok does by giving children and young people exactly what they ask for. They thus become addicted, as it were.

Overdone? Maybe, but there is certainly cause for concern. TikTok uses influencers, hip youngsters who have managed to build a huge following. That can be millions of followers. Usually, the influencers encourage their followers to buy certain products, for example. That way they can generate a pleasant income. As long as it stays that way, there is not much to worry about, but imagine that the influencers successfully propagate political messages. We've already had a taste of that. In June of this year, President Trump planned to hold a major political rally in Oklahoma. Far fewer followers showed up than expected and hoped for. Eventually, it turned out that an action had been started on TikTok to buy tickets for this meeting and then not show up.

It is not inconceivable, according to Ferguson but also the Financial Times, that the combination of artificial intelligence and selected influencers enable the Chinese to influence Western youth politically. Overdone? Ferguson points out how easy it was for Beijing to make most of the major Western corporates dance to Chinese pipes. The promise to access the immense Chinese market was enough!