App-Fearful Conservatives Pivot To Theft of TikTok
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“Well, you don’t see that every day.” Those were the opening words of an editorial about TikTok in the Wall Street Journal. The Journal’s editorial page has unexpectedly sided with conservatives who seemingly feel the best way to protect the American people from authoritarian Chinese influences is to act like authoritarian Chinese and force a sale of TikTok.

The aforementioned Journal editorial suggested that an “overwhelming House vote, 352-65, to require TikTok to sever ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)” somehow lent the vote extra validity. Which was an odd suggestion, and it was odd because “every day” happened back in 2002 when the House voted 334-90 to pass Sarbanes-Oxley, a bill that criminalized allegedly fraudulent financial reporting by corporations.

In April of 2020, the U.S. Senate voted 96-0 to pass the hastily prepared CARES Act, a $2.9 trillion spending bill that subsidized lockdowns related to the coronavirus across the U.S. The House relied on a voice vote, but it would have been near unanimous in light of the sad fact that only Rep. Thomas Massie formally objected to federal funding of a massive taking of freedom.

It's worth adding that also in 2002, 296 members of the House of Representatives voted to authorize the war in Iraq.

“Every day” isn’t too uncommon in a supposedly divided Congress, it seems. It’s a reminder that whatever one thinks of counting heads as a way to make policy or find truth, unanimity among always eager to “do something” politicians isn’t batting anywhere close to 1.000 when it comes to positive outcomes. Which is yet again why it’s so surprising that an editorial page with the motto “Free People, Free Markets” would be so ready to join hands with activists and politicians so eager to shut down an app 170 million Americans freely chose to download. About the overwhelming vote in favor of sell-or-be-shut-down options, the editorial had a response, albeit another odd one coming from the Journal.

Its editorial asserted that it’s “false” about the legislation shutting down TikTok, that it in fact “gives TikTok a choice of divesting from ByteDance or losing access to American users.” The problem is that the response is misleading, and the Journal’s editorial board surely knows why. TikTok’s “choice” is to either lose access to the biggest market in the world (the United States), or sell in 180 days. Assuming the latter, how would the Journal suggest TikTok negotiate when potential buyers know it has to sell, and that the only bidders can be from the United States? It’s just a reminder that TikTok’s “choice” is anything but. It can either lose access to 170 million hard-won users, or it can succumb to political force and sell what’s valuable at a substantial discount. Some would call the latter theft?

The editorial asserts that TikTok’s “algorithms are controlled by ByteDance engineers.” Yes, precisely. The science behind TikTok’s algorithms that makes TikTok such an appealing way for users to spend time is the source of the app’s genius. In which case a forced sale at a discount wouldn’t be the only problem for TikTok. A much bigger problem is that not just anyone would know how to effectively operate it once it’s sold in fire sale fashion.

Sadly, the Journal’s editorialists aren’t just on the side of expropriation of precious technology in concert with the taking of freedom, they’re doing so in contradictory fashion. They want us to believe that it’s essential for U.S. political or national security purposes that TikTok be sold at a discount to American owners, only for them to presume that the new owners could just take right over without the change in management having a material impact on TikTok’s future. That’s like the New England Patriots thinking they could let Tom Brady go in free agency without the quality of the Patriot product on the field going south. Get it?

Lest readers forget, TikTok entered a crowded social media market dominated by American billionaires, only to not just succeed, but thrive. Yet the Journal wants us to believe that separating TikTok from the immense talent that created it wouldn’t be extraordinarily harmful to the business, if not existential?

Seriously, how odd that the Journal’s editorialists would write as though a sale of TikTok would just be a humdrum happening. Of course, if that were remotely true, then there would be no need to force a sale of TikTok in the first place. Put another way, if TikTok could remain wildly popular TikTok after a sale to all-new owners, then neither Congress nor the Journal’s editorial page would be clamoring for its sale. And they wouldn’t be simply because what’s easy to duplicate is easy to beat. It’s a long way of saying that ByteDance’s engineers aren’t just any engineers such a that forced sale would be worse than theft; as in it would threaten the future of TikTok itself.

The Journal editorial asserts that “Most ‘no’ votes” on a bill that would force a sale of TikTok came from politicians “who fear angering their young base.” How disappointing to read, as though there aren’t lots of other good reasons to be horrified by rising nonchalance about freedom on the right.

Still, disappointment that conservatives on up to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page won’t address the actual arguments for leaving TikTok alone pales in comparison to the sad fact that conservatives, including the Journal’s editorial page, are increasingly so comfortable using big government to take away freedom and choice. That they would do so while supporting legislation that would rip off shareholders twice (a sale at a discount, the loss of the talent that made TikTok so valuable) just adds to the puzzlement.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors ( His latest book, set for release in April of 2024 and co-authored with Jack Ryan, is Bringing Adam Smith Into the American Home: A Case Against Homeownership

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