The Decentralists

Hot Topix: The Social Media Cold War - Part 1

July 17, 2020 Mike Cholod, Henry Karpus & Chris Trottier
The Decentralists
Hot Topix: The Social Media Cold War - Part 1
Show Notes Transcript

This week on The Decentralists is our first doubleheader podcast. What started as a local border skirmish between China and India may result in a global data "Cold War” involving all apps. We must ask: is there a social media cold war looming?

A few weeks ago, a border Skirmish between India and China resulted in India’s government banning TikTok  within its borders. This resulted in a cascading bans across the globe and the USA might follow India’s lead. 

Just like it did with Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE, the USA may also soon ban TikTok. China has already banned American-made Facebook and Twitter... so:

  • Can TikTok still survive outside China?
  • How will TikTok’s Gen Z user base adjust to a ban?
  • Will the world be divided according to which apps they have access to?

Also, beware! Your place of work may soon ban you from using your favourite social network. What could they do if you disobey their ban?

Henry [Intro]:  Hey everyone. It's Henry Mike and Chris of the Decentralist. It's another hot topic for you, and this one has a rather interesting title, the Weaponization of social media. Mike and Chris have been thinking a lot about this and, for a change I'd like to start with Chris, over to you.

Chris: Recently, India and China had a border skirmish somewhere in, Kashmir. About 20 people apparently died. And so, India is really mad at China right now. How have they decided to, kind of fight back? Well, by banning 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok.

Henry: India has banned them?

Chris: Yeah. India has banned TikToK along with 59 other Chinese apps. 

Henry: Wow!

Chris: So, the question is, if I've become a TikTok influencer and I am from India, what do I do now? Because I can't officially come back on TikToK. Right? 

Henry: Right. 

Chris: That's a little bit of a risk. 

Henry: It's kind of like, there's a super highway going into a country and then all of a sudden, the border size to close it. And there's no way you can visit or trade. 

Mike:  Yeah. I mean, this is, this is it right? This is why it's weaponization, right? Because this is a 15 second video app that's used by kids, to do goofy dances and stuff. I mean, that's what TikTok is, and it gets banned seriously. It gets banned as part of an international border dispute. I mean, this is kind of a fundamental thing, right? I don't know how many TikToK users in India, but I bet you it's quite a few, and whether you're a user or as Chris mentioned an influencer, you now no longer have that outlet that you had yesterday because your government can't get along with another government and share a border.

Chris:  At least officially Mike. Unofficially, you could still use a tourist site or a VPN to get yourself back onto TikTok. 

Mike: Oh yeah, but that gets you in trouble with the authorities too. 

Chris: Exactly. If the authorities catch you, hey, you might be on the hook for prison time. 

Mike: So, does this seem fair, guys? That, you're talking about a social platform. This is not kind of a piece of software that's meant to deal with anything kind of super secretive or anything like this; these are e-commerce apps. Like how do I buy my groceries and stuff? So, when did we start weaponizing the corner store? And, things like this, I mean, what's the next step? They won't allow a piece of mail, like a letter that has an Indian stamp on it into China and vice versa. 

Chris:  But, to be fair Mike, China has been doing this for nearly two decades. Facebook isn't allowed in China, neither is YouTube, another is Twitter. There are Chinese versions of all those sites. 

Henry: Oh Interesting! And so never have they been available in China? 

Chris: Nope. Not officially. You have to once again, use a VPN to do it, and sometimes people do, but most Chinese people, they don't care; they don't want to use the VPN. They're very happy with, a Waymo or Youku or a list of different Chinese versions of popular apps because every other Chinese person uses those versions, so why bother. TikTok is kind of an edge case, because it's the one platform that is available in China and in the west, but even so, there's a Chinese version of TikToK, and then there's a TikTok, which the rest of the world uses. 

Henry: Okay.

Chris: So, this is a game that's been played for decades. Let me, just say one further thing. Whenever there is kind of an uprising or a revolution, the first thing that gets struck down is social media. When there was that revolution in Libya or the next big protest and in Iran, or Syria, it's always social media. That is the first of the websites that get shut down. 

Henry: Right. 

Chris: That's always the risk. 

Mike: Okay. But, if I may step in here and make a little bit of; it may be subtle distinction, but I think it's an important distinction in this case. When you talk about China, that is true, but China has always had the great firewall around it. 

Chris: True.

Mike:  So that's not a weaponization of kind of technology and social media that is a land grab. And they, so like putting a wall around it, all it did, was it enabled to your point earlier, Chris, the Chinese version of Twitter and the Chinese version of eBay and the Chinese version of all of these sites, like Facebook be to become some of the biggest companies in the world, just like their American brother. So that's not weaponization. Some people would say, that's good business. That's to be expected, but seriously, there's people right now that are going, I wish we'd done it. First. I guarantee you in the hallowed halls all over the world. Now, the second part of it is, when you look at things like the Libyan conflict, and they recently shut the internet, and in social media, down in cashmere and places like this is, that is a regional conflict, like a war or something like this. And they are shutting that down because social media is the only reliable form of communication. I guarantee you; the phone lines are down too. It's just that not everybody has a phone, but now everybody has a smartphone. So, I think the idea is this is a new thing; we have had this app in our country, it has been authorized. It has, Indian and other people on it that use it, that rely on it, that communicate with it, that have built networks with it and influence and friends and family and all of these things, and now they're shut off. 

Henry: And what happens to those people?

Mike: Exactly what happens to these people? This is kind of, the thing that I think we need to peel back the layers of the onion on this issue a little bit and think, okay, so isn't this kind of a risk for anybody, that programs anything on a centralized basis from this point forward. Because presumably the next year, you know what we're going to hear, if the Indian government doesn't uphold this kind of say, okay, we'll back off on this thing, what's to stop say the government of China from bidding, I don't know a big Indian company for like Tata from operating in China, and they have Infosys, which is a big info, like a consulting firm. So, what's to stop them from kind of doing this back to them. So, I think that this is a real problem. 

Chris: Well, Mike, I think you hit the nail on the head with one word and what do all these services have in common? They're all centralized. 

Mike: Correct. 

Chris: So, India knows that to stop all TikTok communication, all they have to do is stop the TikTok app in Indian app stores, that's all they have to do. But there's another side of the coin, which is, do you notice that India isn't stopping, the HTTPS protocol or the email protocol or WordPress sites, have you noticed that? And it's not even China those services and why is that? 

Henry: I'm guessing because they can track it if they want to. 

Chris: I mean that's part of it, but the other reason is because they're all decentralized.

Mike: And they're open standards. Right? 

Chris: Of course.

Mike: Open, decentralized standards that nobody, you could point can't put a finger at any of them and say, this is who owns them to Chris's point about, even WordPress sites, it's my site. It's not WordPress doesn't own it, And I think that's kind of part of it is you can't point at HTTPS and say what's the sovereignty of HTTPS as a protocol to transmit data over phone lines. 

Chris: Yeah. 

Henry: Yeah.

Chris: And so, now all of a sudden, your kind of like, okay, so what does this mean? What does this mean for the guy that the business that's run-on AWS and their cloud-based servers, if all of a sudden, the Russians decide that they're not going to allow AWS to operate within the borders of Russia. And you're a company that has a significant operation inside Russia that uses AWS to access everything. What happens to you now?

Henry: When you're vulnerable as a centralized architecture, you can be vulnerable to not only political things, but technological attacks as well.

Mike: Absolutely. 

Chris: Well, I think we also have to look at scale, right. And the reason why I'm bring up scale is because there's no centralized service that has enough scale where, it becomes impervious to censorship.

Mike: Right? Correct. 

Chris: Anybody can choke off TikTok. Choking off TikTok is easy because everything is run through TikToks APIs; that's easy. It's easy to choke off TikTok, it's impossible to choke off HTTPS. 

Mike: Right. 

Chris: That's if you choke off HTTPS that's, like cutting off the nose to spite the face, right? If India banned HTTPS will India is now effectively killing off their entire internet infrastructure. 

Henry: Yup. Correct. 

Chris: And that's why inevitably, decentralized services are always better options for building than centralized services. 

Mike: Well, especially in a world where we're moving away from kind of a centralized globalized, we're all in this together kind of feeling to a nationalized, individual borders. What's good for me is all that matters. That type of thing world, and this type of kind behaviour is just indicative of that larger kind of political, socioeconomic fracturing that's happening around the world. And so, you're saying it could get worse, oh, well, of course it's going to get worse. As long as we let it keep getting worse, as long as if you believe in democracy and the right and the free right for people to elect or unelected people, to kind of run their governments and their procedures, then as long as we stop supporting these people with strong nationalist views, then it's better for all of us, including our businesses and our influencers and our networks and our everything, because it's clear now, India is just kind of thrown the gauntlet down and said, hey, look, if you really want to kind of kick one of the big guys where it hurts, just ban all their stuff. 

Henry: Yup. 

Mike: It's not just, tariffs anymore. Henry, you know, this is going to hurt TikTok, and this is going to hurt the other 40 or 58 app providers because India is a big market. And so that's a lot of clout that they have. But it's almost like reverse cloud because you use it and all it does is hurt your own people. 

Henry: So, what's the solution?

Mike: Well, I think we've touched on it. I think the only way that the thing that we need to do is we need more, open kind of standards, more decentralization, more, I guess, making more smaller units of measure, if that makes sense. If what you had, if TikTok was decentralized, for example, if it was a decentralized platform, then every single TikTok user would be an independent kind of network on their own. So, if you think about a decentralized social network where every person is able to, build their own kind of social network on that platform with people from wherever they want to meet them and greet them, then these, matters between nations don't affect the individual, because you could ban kind of TikTok from being in the app store, but you couldn't ban anybody using TikTok from continuing to use it and profit from it, if that's what they do. Does that make sense? Because, you know, it's not, India's TikTok, it's my TikTok. And, I think that's the fundamental difference that decentralization does for anybody. So, if you're a big company and you're building, your IT infrastructure, you got to be really careful about now, not just vendor lock-in, which is this idea that once you go to AWS for your cloud services, they make it, really hard for you to switch to Google or, Microsoft and vice versa. If that's bad enough, but you know what I mean? But now you've got this sub risk, which is I could have Amazon my provider for my business, and I know an essential business processes and services and the person in Russia who decides to turn me off now turns off a big part of my business. 

Chris: Right. So, Mike, I'm, 100% in agreement with you, but I also think that we need to get back to why the internet was invented in the first place.

Mike: Yes.

Chris: The internet wasn't invented, so we could sell more stuff, the internet wasn't invented so we could go build something and control the APIs that we built. The original reason why the internet was invented was in case of a nuclear disaster, people can still communicate with each other. And this is literally why the internet was invented ARPANET. It was first set up in 1969, the U S military made it, and the internet was built to be decentralized so that we could still talk to each other in case everything goes wrong. Right now, the TikToks of the world, the Facebooks of the world, the YouTubes of the world, they're not cutting it. 

Mike: Right and this technology now has become so ubiquitous. Back in those days with ARPANET, that was a military initiative. The military needed to have the ability to communicate in disaster situations because that's in effect when you're called in the military in the first place. So that makes sense. But you know what you're having now with this type of thing, and this weaponization of this, now you've got a civilian population. So, the very first mention I saw of this was a couple of days ago, what it was, it was on a BBC feed. And so, they were telling a story of it was wired. They were telling a story about a young guy who runs a storefront in a small neighbourhood, in Bangladesh. In a small town or something. And he makes more money as a TikTok influencer than he does running his store. And so, this is the type of thing, right? This is not disaster level communications and stuff; this is not strategic. This is social media; this is something that people are using to make a living for themselves. And so, we're taking this into a whole new level when they start weaponizing civilian technologies, because that's what this is. But by basically weaponizing it, they're making it into kind of national level, ARPANET; military type communications. And that's not what we're talking about with TikTok. 

Henry: Okay. Mike. So obviously the solution, the best way to build things in the future is decentralized. And again, it reminds me of what you've done it with pure social and many one, because essentially if I'm not mistaken on many one. You are your own network because it all resides on your phone as a node, and therefore there's no centralized server for anybody to either attack or control. 

Mike: That's exactly right. And it works for the enterprise as well, Henry, build your business and your mission, critical parts of your business, like your identity and you're sharing and your communications on a network that you own. And that's the way that you get around being held hostage like this. 

Chris: If you own it, it's more likely to last. 

Henry: Like anything. 

Mike : That's exactly right. Well, and you're more likely to respect it too. 

Henry: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you very much, gentlemen. 

Mike: Thank you, Henry. That was a great one. 

Chris: Thank you, Henry. Yes.