After the Chinese spy balloon was shot out of the sky over South Carolina recently, videos of it went viral. Millions of views viral. On TikTok….
It was difficult to not chuckle at this turn of events. TikTok, the wildly successful Beijing-based social media giant, seemingly isn’t as controlled by Beijing as so many Republicans and Democrats want to believe. In at least one sense, it’s possible that the U.S. political class could learn something from the CCP’s seeming decision to not ban a video that plainly embarrassed the CCP. Or maybe the CCP doesn't have as much control over TikTok as politicians and pundits believe.
It’s all something to think about in consideration of how very much members of the U.S. political class apparently leaned on Twitter, Facebook and others to not feature information about the coronavirus and Hunter Biden (among other things) that might have “misinformed” the people. Yes, something to think about. It’s useful to think about in consideration of the here and now.
To see why, it’s best to pivot to a recent Wall Street Journal report that senior Republicans are “demanding information” on how Meta (Facebook), Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon “moderate content on their online platforms.” How very disappointing, and yes, hypocritical.
Supposedly the problem with TikTok is that it answers to the CCP, and the CCP allegedly moderates content that manipulates American thought. Which requires a brief pause, or question: how many readers felt they were in the dark about the coronavirus and Hunter Biden in 2020 thanks to alleged censorship on Facebook, Twitter and the rest? Tick tock, tick tock….If most are honest, they knew. To censor is to generally amplify. The truth always gets out.
It’s a reminder that even if TikTok is a front for the CCP, a notion that is thoroughly mocked by its massive valuation (how many businesses worth tens of billions are tools of governments?), it couldn’t manipulate Americans any more than Americans were “manipulated” by alleged content moderation in 2020. Repeat it over and over again: to censor is to amplify what the authorities are trying to hide.
With all that said, there’s the still the matter of Republicans “demanding information” about how some of the U.S.’s most successful businesses are moderating content. This isn’t very Republican, right? Aren’t members of the GOP usually cheerleaders for entrepreneurial achievement? And to be clear, the companies mentioned are the embodiment of entrepreneurial achievement against all odds as evidenced by valuations that range from the hundreds of billions to trillions.
To which some Republican apologists will reply that “this time is different,” that these technology giants aren’t giving viewpoints held by the Right and Republican-leaning types a fair hearing on their online platforms. Which means what? Again, this isn’t very Republican.
Figure that the Republicans of old never demanded access to the property of others. They felt it was wrongheaded. With good reason. If some business is foolish enough to discriminate, there’s the business opportunity. Think about it. Discrimination signals a market segment not having its needs met. Which means that discrimination creates chances for new entrants to profit, and profit big. Fox News anyone?
Taking this further, Republicans have rightly always disdained affirmative action. They've made the correct point that preferential treatment creates the perception that those being treated preferentially didn’t advance based on merit, thus diminishing the attainment. By extension, Republicans viewed affirmative action as cruel for it discrediting achievement. Apparently not anymore. Implicit in “demanding information” about “content moderation” is an attempt to "demand representation." It's so NOT Republican.
All of which brings us to a hypothetical about Walmart, a brilliant company that Republicans properly lionize. About Walmart, it’s a safe bet that like Cracker Barrel, more Republicans shop there than Democrats.
In which case imagine the Republican reaction if Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi were to demand information about what Walmart stocks on its shelves. The reaction would properly be outrage. How dare Democrats intervene in how Walmart runs its business. Yes, how dare the Democrats.
Oh well, in the words of Somerset Maugham in The Razor’s Edge, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. How dare the Republicans act like Democrats and intervene in how centibillion dollar and trillion dollar businesses operate? What they do is their business, and their business only.
While shareholders have the right to “demand” information, politicians shouldn’t have the right even if they think they do. And then Republicans shouldn’t demand this kind of information simply because they’re Republicans.