TikTok and the Surveillance State

“Social media apps are increasingly becoming a part of the surveillance state. Because of this, various countries are already cracking down on things like TikTok.”

Recently I penned a piece featuring 22 key books on the Chinese Communist Party and the scary things they are doing, not just in China but throughout the globe. They are seeking global hegemony and they are fully up on using all the new digital technologies to assist in achieving their aims. You can see that piece here.

In it, I mentioned that even seemingly harmless social media apps are being used by them for spying, espionage and wholesale information and intelligence gathering. As I said there:

To help get you further interested in this topic in particular, and the threat of China in general, let me feature some key quotes from a recent interview involving one of the authors I feature below. I refer to Kai Strittmatter and his very important volume, We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State.

This book makes for utterly frightening reading, and what the Chinese Communists are now doing with the new technologies would shock even Orwell and Huxley. As he says in his book:

The music video app Douyin (TikTok, in English) has begun to involve the public in the hunt for trust-breakers – another example of the close cooperation between private companies and the state. Users in Guangxi Province were shown images of wanted people who had been placed on blacklists between their music videos. Anyone who knew where to find one of these people, the app said, should tip off the police. As a reward, they would receive a share of the value of that person’s debts. Credit China allows you to search for specific people whose names appear on blacklists. The virtuous are placed on ‘redlists’. A second website provides similar information about companies that have been sanctioned…

Quotes from other books listed there could also be presented on this issue. In his important 2021 book, The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order, author Rush Doshi discusses how America needs an asymmetric strategy to push back. One thing needed is to “promote legal standards that undermine China’s global information influence.” He writes:

To win what its Propaganda Department officials define as a struggle for “discourse power” against Western “discourse hegemony,” China has invested heavily in efforts to pressure different nodes in the information supply chain that runs from people (content creators) to institutions (media organizations) to platforms (social media) to information consumers. The United States can push back on these efforts asymmetrically. For example, China uses relatively open libel laws in Taiwan and Australia to harass critical journalists and scholars, but simple regulatory reforms could put an end to the practice. China is using investment, advertisement, co-production, and paid inserts to shape media organizations from Latin America to Europe and Asia. Helping countries adopt regulations on Chinese investment, foreign agent registration, and foreign advertising can address these influence channels. Finally, senior Chinese propaganda officials have written that platforms were the “lifeblood” of information flows, and that “whoever owns the platforms will seize the initiative in propagating views and in dominating public opinion.” Just as the United States would have concerns over Russian ownership of Facebook, so too must it be equally concerned about China’s ownership of major platforms like TikTok because they offer enormous opportunities for manipulation of information flows and domestic politics. Accordingly, encouraging restrictions on autocracy-owned social media apps like TikTok—including forced divestiture or de facto bans—are inexpensive and necessary to blunt Chinese efforts in the information space.

Other books besides the 22 that I featured in the above-mentioned article can also be drawn upon. One is Scanned by Nick Corbishley (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2022). I have already done a review of it. As I said there:

We all know that China is a textbook example of all this – it is quickly becoming the perfect tyrannical surveillance and control state. Its nationwide social credit system is the stuff of dystopian novels – and then some: “The overarching goal is to track and monitor each and every Chinese citizen, business, and government agency in real time by amalgamating big data from public and private sources.”

Let me quote further from that volume. Corbishley looks closely at how various technologies are being used by the Chinese government to spy on its own citizens and punish any who are deemed to be “discredited people”:

In its trial of the social credit system the local government of Suzhou, Anhui province, went so far as to publish on its WeChat account photos of local residents walking around the city in their pajamas. The officials said the people were made an example of as part of a drive to “expose uncivilized behaviors and improve citizens’ quality.” The images posted on WeChat were caught by surveillance cameras and included private data, such as the person’s name and ID card number.

This points to another key instrument of social control in China: the government’s vast, AI-powered surveillance system. China has more surveillance cameras per person than any other country on the planet—no small feat for a country of 1.44 billion people. Of the 770 million surveillance cameras in use globally in 2018, 54 percent of them were in China, according to IHS Markit’s 2019 report on the sector. China is also home to 16 of the top 20 most surveilled cities on the planet (based on the number of cameras per 1,000 people), says consumer website Comparitech. London, by the way, is the third most surveilled city on the planet.

China also boasts the world’s biggest manufacturer of surveillance cameras, Hikvision, whose facilities can crank out 260,000 cameras per day….

Social media apps are increasingly becoming a part of the surveillance state. Because of this, various countries are already cracking down on things like TikTok. Here in Australia, politicians are quite concerned about what is happening. As one news report states:

Twelve departments and agencies have a partial ban on TikTok on work-issued devices, while at least 11 departments have no restrictions on the app, including the ABC and Australia Post. Senator Paterson first raised concerns about the app last July after he was told by TikTok that the user data was accessible in China and therefore subject to national intelligence laws.

Then in December, reports emerged that TikTok’s parent company Bytedance had accessed the data of journalists writing stories critical of the company. “The risks posed by this app have been apparent for some time, particularly since their July 2022 admission about user data, and the revelations in December that employees of TikTok in China used the app to spy on journalists writing critical articles about the company and lied about doing so,” he said.

He said Australian government could have “led the world” on banning the app, like the government had done with Huawei. “The first piece of evidence (that TikTok is posing a risk to our national security) is that our closest friends and allies are acting to protect themselves from this threat, but we also now have a smoking gun,” he said, making reference to the journalists. If they can do it to a journalist, they can do it to a public servant or a bureaucrat, and I don’t think that’s a risk we should tolerate.”

And this is a very pressing problem indeed, with leaders like Victorian Premier Dan Andrews regularly going off to Communist China to cosy up to his mates there. Yet the Liberal opposition is too busy waging war on their own members!

An important piece appeared recently looking at the matter of TikTok in much greater detail called “TikTok Generation: A CCP Official in Every Pocket.” Let me offer Kara Frederick’s summary statement in the hope that you will read her lengthy and carefully documented piece:

Every day that TikTok is allowed to operate in the United States is another day that China can collect data on American citizens and sharpen its ability to exploit them—especially young people. The more that TikTok becomes embedded in U.S. society, the harder it will be to uproot. Even so, there will be another TikTok. Without implementing a systemic, risk-based framework to proactively address the next TikTok now, the U.S. will have ceded yet another critical digital battlespace to its adversaries. More so, U.S. policymakers have a duty to safeguard America’s social fabric and protect young citizens from the whims of a hostile, foreign nation. Failing to deliver means that the next generation of Americans will pay the price for Washington’s lassitude.

The West is in a war with Communist China. And even seemingly benign things like social media apps are a part of this. We need to be aware of what is happening and take appropriate steps in response.

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