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There is a new twist in the TikTok tale

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the complex and evolving situation surrounding TikTok, the popular social media app, and the various political and business interests involved. It explores the attempts by the Trump administration to ban TikTok, the Biden administration's efforts to force its Chinese owner ByteDance to sell the US operations, and the involvement of various investors and tech figures in the ongoing saga.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] The Evolving TikTok Saga

1. What were the key events surrounding TikTok during the Trump administration?

  • In 2020, then-US President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok due to alleged Chinese influence.
  • Microsoft tried and failed to buy TikTok's US operations, which Satya Nadella later described as "the strangest thing" he had ever done.

2. What is the current situation under the Biden administration?

  • President Joe Biden signed a bill in 2022 demanding that ByteDance, TikTok's China-based owner, sell its US operations by January 2025 or face a ban.
  • ByteDance is now fighting this through the US courts.

3. How have the positions of key figures evolved on the TikTok issue?

  • Trump himself has apparently flipped and seems to oppose a ban, likely due to the support of a major ByteDance investor who is a Trump supporter.
  • Some of Trump's key allies, such as Robert Lighthizer, hate China's alleged influence over TikTok, while Steven Mnuchin, Trump's former Treasury secretary, seems eager to buy it.

[02] The "People's Bid" for TikTok

1. Who is behind the "people's bid" for TikTok, and what are their motivations?

  • Frank McCourt, a real estate mogul and critic of Big Tech, has launched a putative "people's bid" for TikTok, backed by Tim Berners-Lee (founder of the World Wide Web) and Jonathan Haidt (a social psychologist).
  • McCourt claims he has an edge in the bidding because he does not want to buy the recommendation algorithm, which is considered TikTok's "secret sauce" and a potential national security concern.

2. What are the challenges and limitations of the "people's bid"?

  • McCourt has not discussed his move with Beijing and does not yet have funding in place for the group.
  • ByteDance has no incentive to negotiate while fighting a ban in US courts or if it thinks Trump might win in November and overturn the ban.
  • The "people's bid" is seen as quixotic and potentially more of a publicity stunt than a viable acquisition attempt.

[03] Broader Implications and Trends

1. What are the two key shifts in how people engage with information and authority online?

  • A shift away from "vertical" trust in institutions and authority figures to "lateral" trust in networked peer groups.
  • The rise of "Gen P" (Generation "Pick'n' Mix" or "Playlist"), whose members are becoming addicted to customizing their cyber lives according to individual consumer choices, often amplified by AI tools.

2. How do these shifts impact the online information landscape?

  • They are leading to online tribalism and the tendency to trust peer groups and AI bots over traditional authority figures.
  • This makes the online space more prone to manipulation, as seen in concerns about China using the TikTok algorithm to manipulate consumer choices.

3. What are the potential solutions proposed in the article?

  • Initiatives like McCourt's "Liberty" platform and Berners-Lee's "Solid" platform aim to give individuals more control over their social graph and reduce manipulation.
  • However, these solutions are seen as highly ambitious and face significant challenges in overcoming the power of Big Tech.
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