The TikTok conspiracy – the Montana connection

In the following article, written for Friends of Socialist China, Keith Lamb uncovers the real reasons behind the move by lawmakers in the US state of Montana to ban the hugely popular TikTok app. 

Keith refutes the suggestion that the app presents any national security threat to the US, highlighting instead the degeneration of much of US popular culture as well as the contrast between a bourgeois government in the US – in hock to capital, including the big tech companies – and a socialist government in China, that prioritizes people’s welfare, including the balanced development of the younger generation. 

He also looks at why Montana is the first US state to take this drastic step.

Montana lawmakers have decided to ban TikTok, the popular app owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. Now their decision will go to Montana’s Republican governor, Greg Gianforte, for consideration. The argument for banning TikTok is based on several conspiracy theories. But the real conspiracy theory, which Montana has a role in, isn’t being reported.

The popular conspiracy theory narrative is that China will be able to spy on US citizens, propagandize them, and that China is even using TikTok to dumb down Americans while the Chinese version of the app is used to edify China’s citizens.

First, even the CIA has stated there is no evidence that the Chinese government has access to US TikTok data. Indeed, TikTok stores US data on servers based in Texas. As such, the reasoning for banning TikTok is based on made up and hypothetical situations rather than factual evidence.

Second, it is vacuous to claim that China is using TikTok to propagandize US citizens as US TikTok users overwhelmingly consume homegrown content. Banning TikTok would only mean US content creators would migrate to different apps – this is probably the intention!

In terms of the Chinese version of TikTok, an episode of the 60 Minutes TV show argued that it is more likely to show edifying content to Chinese youth while US children get the dumbed-down version. Thus, the reasoning goes, China is purposely dumbing down Americans!

This dumbed-down argument speaks volumes to the ignorance that masks the real causes for seeking to ban TikTok. Any serious self-reflection on popular US culture would recognize that it has long been dumbed down before TikTok’s advent.

Ignorance and mindless hedonism, combined with the generally illusory prospect of quick wealth added onto a catchy jingle, has long been the background melody that big business has used to propagandize American youth. Without widespread ignorance arguments that combine multiple foreign invasions with notions of “democracy” and “the good guys” would be untenable.

In contrast, China, when it comes to its youth, recognizing the power of technology and media, does have stricter regulations. Minors are now restricted by law in their consumption of online computer games. Technology should be edifying and not just a tool for corporations to make a quick buck.

The contradictions are evident. China has a more edifying version of TikTok because the Chinese government acts democratically on behalf of its citizens. However, in the US China can’t control TikTok’s content which is precisely what TikTok’s detractors are accusing China of.

The job of governing US tech media, for the public good, should be that of the US government. However, homegrown tech monopolies, that fund US poitics, would take offense and claim that freedom of expression and the free market are being interfered with by an “authoritarian” government.

The real conspiracy is that TikTok, which is now the most popular downloaded app in the US, competes with US tech monopolies. Consequently the cloak of “free competition” is being discarded and underhanded political means are being used to protect monopoly power.

One only needs to look at donations to the US presidential 2020 elections to understand that big business is calling the shots. Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Netflix all donated between $21 to $5 million across both parties.

Absent from this largescale election funding was ByteDance who according to OpenSecrets didn’t even donate $20,000 across both parties in 2020, though CNBC recently reported that since then ByteDance has spent $13 million lobbying the federal government. Perhaps this is too little, too late and at any rate, they can’t compete with the collective power of US tech.

The problem with TikTok isn’t that it is controlled by China, it’s that it’s not “one of them.” The US government is Facebook et al and they have all the information they need regarding US citizens, the problem is they, much like the Chinese government, don’t have access to TikTok’s US data. Furthermore, TikTok isn’t hostile to China. It won’t be joining the tech funding of anti-China ‘think tanks’ such as the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

If TikTok is eaten up or banned then these monopolies will feast on the windfall of content creators moving to their platforms, the competition for in-demand developers would be eased, and a free-market competitor would be removed.

So what does all this have to do with quiet Montana far from Silicon Valley? Capitalists not only fund politics, they, as we saw with Trump, are increasingly politicians too. Gianforte, Montana’s governor, is a former software engineer and founder of the cloud service company RightNow Technologies. His successful business was sold to the Texas based US tech giant Oracle for a cool $1.5 billion in 2011.

Oracle was the third-largest software company in the world by revenue and market capitalization in 2020. Unsurprisingly, like the other big tech firms, it spends a fortune on influencing US politics. OpenSecrets reveals that in 2020 and 2021 it spent over $21 million in lobbying and its contributions in 2022 were over $33 million – TikTok can’t compete with this.

Can it really be a coincidence that it is innocuous Montana with a governor who has complex and interwoven connections with an industry that made him rich, which funds a political system he is part of, and which rejects incursions into the profits of US tech monopolies, that is today the testing ground for a TikTok ban in the US?

One thought on “The TikTok conspiracy – the Montana connection”

  1. I am from Vancouver,Canada and i wanted to say that Monopolies are the highest stage of Capitalism. Competition between capitalists made Monopolies a reality. The only way to get rid of US Monopolies is to get rid of Capitalism.Has a rule Monopolies don’t like outsiders like TikTok getting in their way so they have to find an excuse to get rid of them. Since most people in the USA believe they are living the American Dream they will go along with Montana or any other state in banning TikTok. The American Dream is coming to an end with the Multi-Polar world and then TikTok won’tbe a problem.

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