When it comes to social media, these are not the best of times for Donald Trump.
Thanks to all those dead people showing up at the polls, he will soon be stripped of his right to spend the next four years trying to ban TikTok for sabotaging his rallies and holding the national defense budget hostage until Twitter stops being mean to him.
To add insult to injury, Trump’s personal Twitter account is bleeding tens of thousands of followers a week, which is what happens when all of your Russian bots are deployed elsewhere. Currently, he’s trailing behind a who’s-who of superstar musicians that includes Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga.
And in just two more weeks, @WhiteHouse, @Potus, @Flotus, @VP and
@PressSec will all be pried from the Trump administration’s cold dead fingers and handed over to a brand new administration.
So once the world’s most powerful short-timer no longer has executive orders and veto powers at his disposal, will social media users finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief?
Not necessarily. In fact, our government declared war on TikTok long before Trump ever heard of it.
In November of 2019, Republican Josh Hawley — who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism — condemned TikTok’s Beijing-based developer as “a company compromised by the Chinese Communist Party [that] knows where your children are, knows what they look like, what their voices sound like, what they’re watching, and what they share with each other.”
When called upon to testify before the committee, TikTok simply failed to show up, claiming to need more than a week’s notice to provide a witness who would be able to “contribute to a substantive discussion.” The politely worded explanation presumed that the senator actually wanted to have a substantive discussion, which is highly doubtful. Hawley and his colleagues retaliated by holding the hearing anyway, leaving an empty chair at the witness table to underscore the company’s disregard for our rule of law.
A year later, it was TikTok who got to play the jilted lover, dolefully inquiring about yet another lapsed deadline from the preoccupied president.
Valid or not, the arguments for TikTok being a national security threat can be as hilarious as a Rudy Giuliani trial. The best one so far is the concern that politicians’ online indiscretions could be used as blackmail by the Chinese government. Trust us, the last thing China, or any of us, would want to see is Mitch McConnell dancing to a remix of Jason Derulo’s “Savage Love.”
Other social media players will be at risk too, but not for the same reasons.
A few weeks ago, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were called before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. The reason for the hearing was the Record Industry Association of America’s contention that these user-upload platforms are doing nothing to stop “industrial-scale” piracy on their sites. To that end, the RIAA has issued a “Take Down and Stay Down” order, which is basically the social media version of Whac-a-Mole but less fun.
While representatives of Facebook and YouTube dutifully appeared before the committee, Twitter took a page out of the TikTok playbook by simply not showing up.
The RIAA is having better luck taking down quasi-pirate companies like Spinrilla which, in what appears to be a growing trend, has now turned the tables by filing its own countersuit against the RIAA.
TikTok, meanwhile, has been on its best behavior of late, eagerly portraying itself as a service that helps create more hits than it exploits. To that end, ByteDance is conducting a big promotional campaign to highlight the year-end ranking of songs by relatively obscure artists that have been featured in millions of TikTok videos.
Topping the list are Jawsh 685’s “Laxed,” Doja Cat’s “Say So,” and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage.” To the surprise of many, all three beat out massive hits like Cardi B’s “WAP,” which is admittedly a lot harder to dance to.
One flaw in the company’s argument is that the average TikTok clip clocks in at just 15.6 seconds. Combine that with the number of tracks that are either sped up or slowed down, and the songs become all the more difficult to identify.
Since the RIAA’s primary focus is to protect the profits of the record industry — and, to a lesser extent, the artists who generate those profits — expect them to escalate their “Take Down and Stay Down” campaign even more in the months ahead.
And that’s arguably for the best. Because, for now at least, the government has a lot more important ways to spend its time.