The Decentralists

Hot Topix: The Social Media Cold War - Part 2

July 17, 2020 Mike Cholod, Henry Karpus & Chris Trottier
The Decentralists
Hot Topix: The Social Media Cold War - Part 2
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

  • 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 :  Hey everyone. It's Henry Mike and Chris of the Decentralist And it's not just hot topics time today, it's hot TikTok topics today. It's been crazy just last week, seven days ago, we did the weaponization of social media, and remember we were talking about, India, China, and the skimmers they're getting into. And the fact India has banned TikTok. Well in the span of one week. the weaponization, the social media war has just gone nuclear. What's happening in the states right now, is quite amazing. And Chris, please start us off, 

Chris:  Well, Henry the USA is thinking of banning TikTok, and when they say that they're thinking of banning TikTok specifically secretary of state, Mike Pompeo said this, it's almost assuredly a fact that they will ban TikTok. 

Henry: Right.

Chris: We've seen this play out before with Huawei and ZTE. And so, it's, bound to happen and along with this ban of TikTok, comes corporate bans. Amazon today announced that they are banning employees from using TikTok, and so this is going to have a cascade effect assuredly. What we might be seeing soon is a new cold war played out with social media platforms and Mike predicted this seven months ago.

Mike: I do, I called it. 

Chris: Yep. He called it; he wrote a blog post all about it. Mike, what were you thinking seven months ago? When you called this, you said that TikTok was going to be banned. 

Mike: Yeah. We're seeing basically playing out right now, and the reason why we're having this part of this podcast, is the fact that social media and even just applications themselves are being kind of used at the geopolitical and now corporate level. And so, seven months ago, if you'll recall the Huawei thing was still in limbo. There was still a bit of a China, America trade war going on. And there were questions of whether TikTok was being used as a surveillance tool. And that was basically just linked to the fact that their parent company is Byte dance based in Beijing. So, the assumption right, was that TikTok was essentially a snooping tool, because it was just kind of all of a sudden, I think it's been about a year, Chris, maybe even a little bit less, that TikTok has basically exploded, especially in the United States. And so, back then what happened was, everybody was bristling about China and they kind of haven't really stopped that, but it was more, front page news and they were bristling about China and they were thinking this was a surveillance tool and they were using the military; first the US military banded on the phones and then the department of defense did. And so, at that point, the reason why I could see it coming is because this is basically a victimless ban in the United States or at least especially seven months ago, it would've been. This this is a social media product that was not created in Silicon Valley. 

Henry: Ah! So that's why you're saying victimless, except for the users who are up in ours. 

Mike: Right. And so, this is the problem, if you basically accept that social media and technology and applications and the data that's associated with it can be used as a tool in a geopolitical struggle, which is what we're seeing right now which I don't accept. I don't accept that my personal data should be, or can be used as a weapon against somebody else, especially without my consent. But leave that to the side basically TikTok, if they banned seven months ago, the net effect to anybody in the United States who has say built an influence channel or is making some revenue off TikTok or whatever, would've been less because there would've been less people on there but TikTok has proven to be a better, more popular social media app than something that's come out of Silicon Valley. And so, Chris and I have talked about this before; we've all talked about this before. There's not a lot of emphasis on the fact that, well nobody seems to think that there's a big problem with Facebook and all these guys taking data until recently, but a Chinese app. No way! 

Henry: Okay. Now question for you and maybe Chris is a bit of an expert when it comes to social media. Am I right when I say that TikTok, unlike Facebook, it's not a newsfeed or is it more entertainment? 

Chris: So, to give you a background on TikTok . TikTok, is a result of, merger between two apps, actually the first app was called and that was basically a karaoke app, something where people would just sing lyrics or lip sync and do dances too, and that was established well before TikTok.So what happened was Byte dance bought, Merged it with their own Chinese version of the app and that the Chinese version of the app still exists in China today, it's not available in the Western world. And so, the result of that was TikTok and in about two years' time, from the moment of the merging between these two apps, TikTok exceeded app downloads in terms of all the other social networks. So TikTok by 2018 had more downloads than Instagram, more than Twitter. 

Henry: Really?

Chris: Yep, and it's, become the app of choice for Gen Z. Gen Z identifies with, TikTok; the way Gen Z sees it, is Facebook is for boomers. Instagram is for millennials and TikTok is for them. It's their space. 

Henry: Interesting. I didn't realize there was a stratification there.

Mike: Yeah. Well, it's how they see it. It's how they perceive it. So that's the background on TikTok.

Henry: But it's taking a new turn now, right? 

Chris: It is. 

Mike: We've talked a bit about this idea of the, kind of the government's weaponizing the data, but now even and this is where I think TikTok is actually confirming the fact that they're going to get banned. To me, is when things start to happen, like now there was this rumour going around that it was a bunch of K-pop fans and TikTok kids that basically kind of scuppered, Donald Trump's return to, campaign rally, remember back in Oklahoma City, a couple of, I think it was a couple weeks. 

Henry: Oh, yeah. Right. 

Mike: And, and just today there's an article out basically how they're basic, they're attributing the same type of behaviour to a bunch of Gen-Z users, trying to down rank the Donald Trump app on the apple app store to get apple, to ban it and drop it because. 

Henry: What do you mean, you're talking about reviews? 

Mike: Yeah, basically. 

Chris: Yeah. 

Mike: Basically. And so, the challenge now is, now you've got TikTok, right. A platform that has no connection in terms of revenue generated or anything like this to the United States. That is now potentially, been a channel for disrupting the president's campaign, which we all know is very important to him, and is now being accused, like the users of this platform are being accused of potentially down ranking his app, which, in the grant panacea things, that's probably a treasonable offence in Trump's eyes right now. So, anybody who thinks that we'll probably be recording part three to this podcast before we get this one out, because it's going to get banned. 

Henry: So, what you're saying is, not just countries and corporations can weaponize social media app, but the users themselves can, in other words, something is so powerful. People can use it against each other. 

Mike: Right. But Henry, this is admirable though. 

Henry: Absolutely. 

Mike: Right. I mean, if these Gen-Z’ers are actually you using TikTok to, basically upend this strangle hold that, we think we have over the audience to Chris's point of the millennials and the boomers by controlling Facebook and Instagram, these kids using TikTok are proving that it actually can be a beneficial thing, but the problem is the lack of ownership and control over that tool. Is, it basically means that, if the government of insert company country here could be Poland, it could be Brazil, it could be anywhere deciding that they want to stifle the voice of their youth, they just ban TikTok. 

Chris: Well, there's another aspect to this, and I'm going to wear another hat here for a moment and I can view this in a geopolitical sense. Now, Mike, one of the costs of doing business in China, is that you kind of have to get comfortable with the people's Republic of China, meaning the CCP, the communist party. 

Mike: Sure.

Chris: If you're not comfortable, they're just not going to allow you to do business. So, the question that comes is if you're a company in China making a made in China product, how is it possible, for there not to be a quote-unquote, special relationship with the Communist Party of China. So, you're kind of in a rock, well between a rock and a hard place, if you're a Chinese developer. And that's where Byte dance is. 

Mike: Right. But I think Chris, but dance is done is tried to find a way through. And I think what has proven is, that there really isn't a way through. 

Chris: No, there isn't. 

Mike: They just left. We were talking about this Henry and before we started this podcast and, they just announced that they left Hong Kong like a couple of days ago. 

Henry: Yeah. 

Mike: Physically left.

Chris: That's right.

Mike: And, the challenge is, because I believe TikTok is owned by Byte dance, which is a Chinese company, but TikTok is not available in China correct? 

Chris: No, the Chinese version is called Douyin. 

Mike: Yeah. That's right. 

Chris: So, it's quite possible that just as Tok leaves, Hong Kong Douyin comes in for sure. 

Henry: Wouldn't that be convenient for China. 

Chris: Yep. So, Byte dance has tried to remake themselves as a Western company. 

Henry: Right. 

Chris: They, hired like just the last month, June 20, they hired Kevin Mayer, As the CEO of TikTok and the COO of the Byte dance. And, Kevin Mayer is an American. 

Mike: Where was he from? 

Chris: Well yeah, he used to be, the chairman of the Direct Consumer Division of the Walt Disney company. 

Mike: Oh, that's right. 

Chris: And he's, managed acquisitions of Pixar and Marvel that. 

Mike: Wow. So, he's a big shooter. That's a big name. 

Chris: That's right. So, they've tried to remake themselves as a Western company, not a Chinese company. 

Mike: Right.

Chris: But you know, as far as the American government is concerned, everything you reveal on TikTok, you reveal to the communist party of China. Now I just want to say this, if that's true, if everything you see on TikTok is available to the communist party of China, would it also be true that everything you have on Facebook and Instagram is available to the NSA? 

Henry: Of course.

Chris: And the American government. 

Henry: And don't forget, there could be a more sinister reason behind this. Could it be Facebook that is promoting the ban of something like TikTok to their friends in the Trump campaign and their friends elsewhere, because it would be lovely if, a competitor is banned, but they're still around.

Chris: Well, Henry to answer that question, here's an interesting fact for you. Ever since TikTok has been banned in India, there has been an uptick in downloads for Instagram. 

Henry: Well, there you go! 

Mike: And, hey, wait a second. I just thought of something. Chris, we were talking about this the other day. Didn't Facebook buy Giffy?

Chris: Yes. They bought Giffy.

Mike: So basically, doesn't that indicate that they've been thinking about, because Giffy is kind of like the thing where you make those little pictures that you attach to emails and stuff. So, it's like the little kind of animations, but basically this could in effect be like a micro TikTok that they'll just burn into Instagram, which means they've been planning this for a while? 

Chris: Well, I don't know about that, but I do know that there is a made in America version of TikTok. And that is just kind of beginning to pick up steam. 

Henry: So, they've been seeing this even longer than Mike has.

Mike: Yeah. Quite possibly. 

Chris: So funny enough, there is a made in America version of TikTok called bite. 

Henry: Okay, and who owns it?

Chris:  I'm not sure, but the owner of TikTok is Byte Dance, so, I don't know. I think that's kind of,

Henry:  You've got some research to do there.

Chris: So right now, there is a little bit of migration going to Byte but does not yet have feature parody with TikTok. So, it's entirely plausible that that's what's going on here is America is taking a page out of China's book. If you recall, when Twitter was first released, China banned Twitter, and there was a version of Twitter called Weibo that got a lot of users simply because it was the Chinese version of Twitter.

Henry: Yeah, absolutely. Right now, Mike, Chris alluded to this very early on in the podcast, but I also know that you would love to share your thoughts and comments. You can't use TikTok if you're an Amazon employee. 

Mike: Yeah. Isn't this funny, hey, I mean, so basically what you're starting to see, is this. TikTok banned is taking on the same flavor as the Facebook boycott. And, what you're having is people kind of jumping out and jumping on the bandwagon to maybe score some points or do whatever, but regardless. How do you feel about that if you're an Amazon employee? So basically, they've an Amazon announced today that if you have a mobile device, you can still apparently use TikTok on a browser. But if you have a mobile device that has Amazon mail; so, you're receiving your Amazon mail on that mobile device, whether it's your. 

Henry: It could your very own personal phone, right? 

Mike: Right. Presumably Amazon, as I've heard is Amazon is one of these kinds of painfully company. So, it wouldn't surprise me if they don't buy people, phones. 

Henry: Well, certainly not everybody is going to have a phone that's provided by Amazon, especially those that work in jobs that don't need to be in total communication all the time.

Mike: So now you're one of these people that's making $8 an hour working in an Amazon warehouse and you are not allowed to have TikTok on your personal phone sound.

Henry:  I'm American. 

Mike : Presumably what that means is, if you walk into the warehouse and you're on your coffee break, and you decide to make a TikTok video, you decide to watch some, your kids on TikTok because maybe your kids are on TikTok and that's why you're on it, you get fired? So, what does this mean? Like this means now that basically any employer can pick anything that they don't like and just say you can't have it, even if it's on your personal phone, if you want to work here.

Henry: Boy, the HR departments can be really busy there. 

Chris: Oh yeah, exactly. Well, Mike, once again, we we've seen this play out before it happened with Huawei. 

Mike: Yep. 

Chris: Cisco Banned Huawei, Google banned Huawei. And that's kind of the precursor, before the federal ban. What the American government likes to do is they first like to put pressure on American companies. 

Mike: That's exactly right. 

Chris: You basically say distance yourself from this company we don't like. So, in Google's example, they banned Huawei from using the Google play store. 

Mike: Right.

Chris:  And so, Amazon's probably the first of many American companies that are going to start banning, TikTok.

Henry: Yes.

Chris: Yes. And I just want to make a note of a little bit of hypocrisy here because Amazon makes those echo devices. 

Henry: Yeah, 

Chris: Right. They listen in on conversations, and how are we to know that our conversations; those conversations you know, surveilled through echo, are then routed through the NSA? How do we know that? 

Mike : Well, I think that was part of Snowden's revelation that we know that they are being routed through the NSA. 

Henry: Yeah.

Mike: Pretty much.

Chris: Yep. Petty much. So, we definitely have to look at the American government's critique as do what I say, not as I do. 

Henry: Ain't that the truth!

Chris: Yes. 

Mike : So I agree with you completely, in terms of the pressure that the government will put on companies and things like this, but let's remember one thing. One of the things about Amazon is that, Amazon does not operate in China.

Chris: No

Mike: They're another one of these companies that the Chinese banned. 

Henry: Sure. 

Mike: And there's an equivalent, like Ali Baba or one of these guys. 

Chris:  Yeah. Alibaba is the equivalent.

Mike: It's the equivalent of Amazon and they're basically like massive company, not as big as Amazon, but massive company, just because of the fact they've got a market of a billion people. So, seeing somebody like Amazon or Facebook or Google or Twitter or any of these people that don't do business in China, be TikTok, whatever. What it is at most to these people is, an infringement potentially on their rights as an employer, over their employees, which is already kind of egregious. But you know what this is? This is an indicator of what is seeming, we don't kind of try to control it now. This is turning into like a new kind of geopolitical reality of the internet, where you're going to, literally look at the map of the internet and it's going to be like those old maps. Henry you'll remember these for sure; the map. So, the world back when it was the Soviet Union and the Americans and you looked at the map and every country was either red or blue, depending on which sphere of influence they fell under. 

Chris: Yes,

Mike:  Yes. And so now what you're going to basically be able to do is tape, the top thousand tech companies on this planet and basically kind of paint them with a color of the block of countries that they belong to. 

Henry: Oh, that'll be fascinating. 

Mike: Right. And, so now what that means for somebody who truly wants to be global, if you're going to build on these cloud-based platform, you're better be prepared to think of these guys like PewDiePie, this guy posts like 40,000 times a day. Now he has to do it 40,000 times a day on 10 different apps. 

Henry: So, this, all shows that the future has to be centralized. 

Chris: Absolutely, because here's the problem real life. I was at stake. It's easy to say, absolutely this is low stakes, but here in Canada, the Canadian government, arrested the CFO of Huawei; Meng Wanzhou , and she's bound to be deported to America right now. Her lawyers are, arguing that her arrest was unjust, will let the courts decide that. 

Henry:  Well, America asked Canada to do that. 

Chris: America did ask. So, here's the further question, let's say a Facebook employee decides to make a visit to China or a Chinese ally, will they be arrested to as tit for tat? How far does this go? We already know that Canadians, were arrested in China as retaliation for Meng Wanzhou being arrested. 

Henry: That's right. 

Chris: So, here's the question. If you end up being a popular user of a social media platform and you decide to walk into a country, where that platform banned, or they use another equivalent. That's, kind of on the wrong geopolitical fence. Will you be arrested? 

Henry: Yeah. Are you a target? 

Chris: Yeah. That's a very good question. 

Henry: Wow!

Chris: Will you be put in prison indefinitely just because you were a YouTube user with 1 million subscribers?

Henry: That's amazing. Okay. Gentlemen, Mike, what do you think the future could be for Tik-Tok after? But I can't ask you that. It's been one day or a week, but any ideas?

Mike: Oh, yeah, for sure. Tik-Tok is. I called about seven months ago; they would get banned. I'm going to call it now. I think that they will cease to exist as we know them within six months. I don't see how they survive a cascading set of banns by the United States and Europe and Canada and corporations, everything. I think that what you'll see, is I guarantee you right now, TikTok and the management, the guy from Disney is on the phone trying to find a way to separate TikTok as a separate company out of the byte dance group. 

Chris: Oh yeah. 

Mike: And do a public listing somewhere on the NASDAQ or something and say, we are no longer Chinese. 

Henry: That's interesting. 

Mike: No, I guarantee you, that's what they're going to try to do. But I think that the reality is that that there's no way they'll be able to do that fast enough to stop the cascade of banns. And I think that once, basically Chris alluded to it already, they've already seen an uptick in Instagram downloads from presumably Gen-Zer's in India who lost their living seven days ago. 

Henry: Yes.

Mike: So, if you basically spent a trillion dollars to accelerate a NASDAQ listing, you're not doing it in less than three months, and by that time, TikTok will be banned almost everywhere and all of their users will have already left. So, I give of them six months, unless something that is not readily a visible to all of us results in them not getting banned, but there's only one way that doesn't happen. And I think right now they're just too toxic right now that they're banned, they're done it's over six months. 

Chris: Yeah. So, Mike, I'm going to agree with you, but I'm also going to make an addendum to that. What I think is going to happen is USA is going to simply say to its allies, hey, if you want us to invest in you, you're going to ban TikTok , and other Chinese apps. That's what they're going to say. 

Mike: Yep. 

Chris: And meanwhile, what China's going to do is it going to go to different developing nations that they're investing in a lot of them in Africa, and they're going to say, hey, you want money for a road, you want money for a bridge, you want money for a 5G network? Yeah. Well, you're going to ban Instagram.

Mike: And Facebook and Amazon and all of those and use ours instead.

Chris: You're going to use our made in China Absolut instead. 

Mike: It's a social media, cold war without. 

Chris: A doubt. Absolutely. We, are entering into a new social media, cold war where, Somalia is going to have, Dugin, which is the Chinese version of South Korea. They're, going to have to do with Instagram. 

Henry: Right. Wow. Fantastic insights guys. And, the thing is we never expected Friday, July 10th to be like this, but you know, I say let's end it right now and get back onto our news feeds because in the next three hours, there's going to probably be more information. 

Mike : Totally. We're probably going to have to record another one. Totally! 

Henry: Oh, boys, thank you so much. This was very, very entertaining. 

Mike: Thank you, Henry. 

Chris: Yeah. Thanks Henry.