Since yesterday, I couldn't avoid addressing the elephantic blue bird in the room once again; let's have a quick discussion about TikTok too. Like probably many of you, I've seen a bite-sized takedown of TikTok on LinkedIn that was clipping a 60 Minutes video published on Youtube – you're still with me? 😵💫
The narrative is simple:
TikTok is perverting our youth because it's too addictive, and nowadays, kids in the West just want to be social influencers, not cosmonauts or doctors anymore. China is hijacking our society with Tiktok! This is cultural warfare. To aaaarms!(My words.)
Here's the clip:
Well, a few remarks...
Yes, it's cultural warfare. Just like a few decades ago, Hollywood movies or, worse, TV series were. Media (social or not) have always been an instrument of soft power and cultural influence. Here we are just starting to understand that we cannot reciprocate anymore. Selling the dream of democracy and personal freedom to China went bust, not because we don't want to anymore, but because we don't have the tools anymore.
More importantly? TikTok is not doing business without our regulatory consent. We could ban TikTok tomorrow (and I'd see some upside in doing just that) or have Oracle "buying" it and try to cut the ties to the CCP, but to what end?
The differences you can see between what Douyin (Bytedance version of TikTok in China) and what is going on in the West is just an honest mapping of the regulatory vacuum we are still navigating in. We don't have to become authoritarian nations to impose some bloody common sense and perfectly clear limits.
When Germany asked Facebook to comply with strict and timely moderation of nazi messages and propaganda, Facebook complied. When most cities asked Airbnb to limit the number of annual stays in any given apartment and pay hotel taxes, Airbnb complied. When the European Commission asked Apple and all mobile manufacturers to stop their cable non-sense and adopt USB-C, Apple and others complied (or will soon).
Shall I go on?
To quote Ed Sanders:
We don't get the 'opium version' of TikTok, we get the 'regular version' that the Chinese government does not allow for the exact reasons we worry about TikTok.
TikTok is just the symptom; we are collectively the cause. And this is despite our tremendous power, more so than the U.S.
How do I know? Because the European Union's 450 million people is a market larger than the U.S.'s 330 million. And each of these extra 120 million people does not factor in as 'more'; they factor in on a power curve. The most conservative approximation of Metcalfe's law tells us that if the potential total value of the U.S. social network effect is 330²/2 = 54.450, then the value of Europe is 450²/2 = 101.250, double the U.S.
How about stopping crying a river and being responsible? Regulating digital is far less complex than regulating healthcare, food, or automotive.