TikTok Goes The Clock: Countdown to Disaster
When is someone going to take action against the growing threat of TikTok? The service which masquerades as a short form video social media company is a clear and present danger to the United States and it's interest.
With the upcoming midterm elections in the United States every engaged individual should be concerned about TikTok's growing influence. This is especially true consider the rise of disinformation campaigns from the 2016 presidential election on.
TikTok's popularity is growing and, as it does, so too does its power. Users of the platform spend twice as much time on it than they do on Facebook or Instagram. They also spend three times as much time on the platform as on Twitter. While social media platforms impacts can sometimes be overstated, especially in the case of Twitter, TikTok's increase in use should raise alarms.
Foreign actors are already using TikTok against the public such as Russia's state-controlled media using the service to promote Ukraine disinformation  . "In Germany, TikTok accounts impersonated prominent political figures during the country’s last national election. In Colombia, misleading TikTok posts falsely attributed a quotation from one candidate to a cartoon villain and allowed a woman to masquerade as another candidate’s daughter. In the Philippines, TikTok videos amplified sugarcoated myths about the country’s former dictator and helped his son prevail in the country’s presidential race" . "There was also a flood of misinformation about COVID-19 posted by everyday people, including uninformed opinions from doctors and alarmist coverage from news outlets about the virus" .
On top of the threat of disinformation, there is also the danger of the service being used to mine data on the American public and manipulate it using the dame. As we have discussed previously, TikTok shares your data on a pretty consistent basis with 14 different URL's, 13 of which are third parties no one outside of the company knows the identities of.
This information can be used in many ways. For example, as we saw in the 2016 Presidential Election, the data could allow foreign actors to influence or manipulate the voting public such as when Russian operatives associated with the Internet Research Agency (IRA) engaged in an online campaign to encourage supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement while also promoting opposition and violence against the group . A foreign government used our own data to determine who would be most receptive to both sides, used said data to create and target ads at those individuals, and directly caused protests and counter protests in real life that had actual consequences.
There is also growing concern that the information collected by TikTok could be used by the Chinese governments espionage efforts. Not that long ago, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization reported that social media has become a "hunting ground" for foreign powers looking to recruit and coerce spies. Once these hostile entities have build up enough information about a person they can determine how to best manipulate them. Maybe you have been googling debt consolidations so now the Chinese know you are in need of money. Perhaps you always share political content of a certain kind so now the Communist party knows what to post in order to effect your voting. You could also be cheating on your husband and now, after several tawdry emails, the Chinese Ministry of State Security has the leverage to get you to share business or state secrets.
What Can Be Done?
Short of embargoing the platform all together, the United States could pass laws much like the EU’s Code of Practice on Disinformation and strictly enforce compliance. The strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation was signed and presented on the in June of 2022 by 34 signatories who have joined the revision process of the 2018 Code. Signatories committed to take action in several domains, such as; demonetising the dissemination of disinformation; ensuring the transparency of political advertising; empowering users; enhancing the cooperation with fact-checkers; and providing researchers with better access to data . TikTok signed on to the pledge as well but to what degree they comply in Europe is yet to be seen .
The weaponization of data, especially that being collected by TikTok, should concern us all. Our leaders must take bold action to protect, not only the information we consciously share but also, the raw information gathered in citizens. As artificial intelligence grows more powerful the ability of foreign actors to use that information will grow in kind. We must take action before the threat grows more dire.