Reassured by the Reuters “Factbox” that, “a broad U.S. TikTok ban is unlikely to take effect soon,” I resumed staring at a wall. TikTok and its disastrous consequences for the world are the culmination of all social media, a 20-year trajectory from MySpace Tom to Congressional hearings and world leaders saber-rattling over an app. The enormous damage it’s caused in such a brief period of time is obvious even if you’re not on TikTok, and the dysphoria familiar to users of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat should’ve been enough to swing the American media against the Beijing-owned app.
NPR is more blithe than ever: “The U.S. is threatening to ban TikTok? Good Luck.” But trust The New York Times to publish something unbelievably stupid: “Perhaps the reason First Amendment rights haven’t received more attention in this debate already is that TikTok is a subsidiary of ByteDance, a Chinese corporation that doesn’t have constitutional free speech rights to assert. But if we set aside the question of TikTok’s rights, the platform’s users include more than 150 million Americans, as TikTok’s chief executive testified at a contentious congressional hearing on Thursday. TikTok’s American users are indisputably exercising First Amendment rights when they post and consume content on the platform.” Jameel Jaffer thinks it’s possible to “set aside the question of TikTok’s rights,” but that’s precisely what the Biden administration is arguing: the CCP’s all-seeing eyes are on American information, in American smartphones—millions of millions of them.
The headline for Jaffer’s op-ed is alarmingly adolescent: “There’s a Problem With Banning TikTok. It’s Called the First Amendment.” As the 2020s go on, I’m beginning to think lead is in the water: “At the very least, the government would have to show that the ban is substantially related to important governmental interests.” Why are so many people openly defending something with no benefits? Do this many people really think TikTok, and all other social media, aren’t purely destructive? I use Twitter and Instagram, but would love to wake up one day and find them erased, along with everyone else’s. No fear of missing out, because if everything was wiped clean, the outside world would change. Immediately in some ways, longer in others—it wouldn’t necessarily be better, but it’s a world anyone above 10 remembers.
No more social media. Only media: YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, iTunes, Letterboxd, Goodreads, and all other websites with social media components, will remain. Comments sections will return, just as impotent and angry as they were on blogs in the 2000s, or the letters section in any 20th-century newspaper. Tastemakers and gatekeepers who once made it socially impossible to openly listen to Britney Spears and Slint won’t return, gone for a generation during which they weren’t missed. And something new will emerge: a new organ, pulsing against a loophole, will allow people another novel way to turn off. Whether or not China or the United States creates it is irrelevant; any data-mining by TikTok and its Beijing owner have precedents in Zuckerberg and the Ring Video Doorbell company.
A half-decade blackout. Texting, calling, comments. A new day rising.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith