One of the increasingly rare bipartisan areas of agreement in the West today is the view that TikTok, the depressingly popular social media video-sharing app owned by the Chinese tech giant ByteDance – and thus, to all intents and purposes, by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – represents a clear and present threat to democracy.
Most recently, in May 2023, the US State of Montana signed a TikTok ban into law, intended to apply to the personal smartphones of all Montanans – good luck implementing that one.
The usual reason given for such caution is that TikTok may permit ByteDance to track users’ locations and contacts, sucking up valuable data-points and potentially allowing Beijing to spy on or blackmail the app’s 1.6 billion global users. But might there be a more fundamental fashion in which TikTok could be weaponised, one which could prove far more destructive to Western security than mere electronic phishing expeditions? Are we banning the right app, but for the wrong reasons?
Social media or socialist media?
On March 1, after politicians voted to grant President Biden the legal powers to ban TikTok from America should he ever feel the need to do so, a spokeswoman from the company warned against it, saying “A US ban on TikTok [would be] a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion people who use our service worldwide.”
Yet the awkward unspoken fact is that “a ban on the export of American culture and values” via TikTok to China was already in force, but from the Chinese end. Most Western-produced content on the platform would be wholly inaccessible to Chinese youth, as the domestic and foreign versions of the app are, as one US tech analyst has put it, as different as spinach and opium.
Western TikTok is dominated by moronic clips of teenage girls gyrating and lip-synching to strange and repetitive noises purporting to be music, dangerous juvenile challenges, like swallowing excess Benadryl and then filming your consequent hallucinations, licking toilets, eating cereal from other people’s mouths with a spoon or wetting yourself on-film, alongside indoctrination via self-made propaganda shorts for causes like Black Lives Matter, climate change and transgenderism.
Chinese TikTok, which operates under the brand-name “Douyin”, began somewhat similarly when first launched in 2016, but once the CCP realised its unwanted potential to transform Chinese youth into a nation of lip-synching toilet-lickers, mandarin media-censors quickly intervened. In 2018 the CEO of ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, was forced to publicly apologise for the “wrong path” his products had taken, which, he now suddenly realised, was “incommensurate with socialist core values”.
Consequently, the CCP now own a “golden share” in Zhang’s company, permanently occupying one of its board’s three seats, whilst thousands of new content moderators were hired to ensure future uploads were compliant with desired CCP dogma.
In 2021, a programme of cultural “national rejuvenation” or “profound transformation” was launched by President Xi Jinping, targeting not only the Internet, but film, TV, music and other media, in which all “abnormal aesthetics” like those adopted by “cissy men” were to be ruthlessly scrubbed from Chinese screens. Popstars, actors, actresses and LGBTQ activists suddenly became non-persons overnight, their influence upon susceptible youth deemed undesirable; their films vanished from streaming-services, their biographies were deleted online.
According to one widely-circulated Chinese media article, decadent Western entertainment values were deliberately spread by the US via a devious media “tittytainment strategy”, something which would ultimately mean that “our young people will lose their strong and masculine vibes and we will collapse like the Soviet Union” before being attacked militarily by America and her vulture-like allies.
Big Mother is watching you
As a result, today’s Douyin is no longer dominated simply by the most popular content amongst users, as before, but by improving educational videos about science, history, culture, patriotism and “beautiful scenery across the country”. Safeguards limit users to 40 minutes per day on the app, with regular pauses telling them to “put down the phone”, “go to bed” and “work [hard] tomorrow” at school, thereby transforming their telephone into little more than a small, hand-held, electronic mother-simulator.
Douyin is physically unavailable between the hours of 10pm and 6am, and influencers are banned, as is any and all content promoting dubious causes like suicide, eating disorders and tonguing toilets – or, in other words, US and European-style online youth-culture is currently prohibited from electronic export into China, as a hazardous e-drug. But, if we are banned from exporting our own cultural pathologies to them, what might the Chinese simultaneously be exporting to us, via our own open-border free-market principles?
Perhaps they are simply selling a new form of our own old opium back to us. In 2020, British historian Niall Ferguson revealed his “epiphany” that “TikTok is not just China’s revenge for the century of humiliation between the Opium Wars and Mao’s revolution. It is the opium – a digital fentanyl, to get our kids stoked for the coming Chinese imperium.”
Making comparisons between China’s other leading recent domestically produced viral-product, Covid-19, Ferguson claimed that, if TikTok were “a pathogen, it would be the Black Death”, so quick and deadly was its spread. “Future historians will marvel that we didn’t give our kids crack cocaine, but we did give them TikTok,” he added.
Conditions like “TikTok brain”, a “digital dementia” caused by the app’s instant gratification nature, which shortens attention-spans and causes the deterioration of memory, are now being identified, potentially affecting users’ future cognitive capacities. As the most successful and addictive app ever designed, TikTok has also fuelled the epidemic Western spread of mass sociogenic illnesses like depression, self-harm, Tourette’s Syndrome-like tics and delusions of transgenderism. Cognitively impaired teenage solipsists don’t make good soldier or scientist material, as China knows full well.
The revolution will be live-streamed
Furthermore, as 26 percent of Americans under 30 use TikTok to get their ‘”news” (I use that term loosely here …), the app leaves them wide open to manipulation by ideologically motivated influencers who seek to use them as easily converted political foot soldiers for their chosen Social Justice cause. In the US, content with hashtags like #racistparents or #conservative parents proliferates, in which indoctrinated youth denounce their elders for daring to vote Republican or hold any other opinions deemed “problematic”.
Influencers now act out and film imaginary arguments with their parents about scenarios which have not even occurred, then post them online as if they have. A weeping teenage white girl may disingenuously post a film of her threatening to leave home because her racist father won’t allow her to date a black boy – even though this situation is actually purely hypothetical. According to one friendly online write-up, such posts are “anecdotal and rooted in someone’s truth, but not necessarily that of the person posting.” Simple translation: pure lies.
Everywhere you look, TikTok is fuelling social rebellion of young against old. Particularly telling is the #BritishMuseumChallenge, in which teenagers walk around exhibition-spaces devoted to Ancient Egypt and elsewhere, claiming (incorrectly) it is impossible to find any actual British objects inside the building, as everything there had been looted by white colonial supremacists from helpless black and brown people abroad. Other pranksters film themselves calling the police to report the Museum for handling stolen goods: a good meta-prankster could film them doing so, whilst simultaneously reporting them for wasting police time.
The Saga Funeral Plan
Few TikTokkers, however, go quite as far as “Saga”, a mixed-race trans (or proud, show-off user of the pronouns they/them, anyway) teen influencer and self-styled “Black supremacist” who went viral after denouncing her own father at his funeral in 2022, especially for TikTok. Like Marc Antony in reverse, Saga came not to praise Caesar, but to bury him, which was just what her dad deserved, being “a racist, misogynist, xenophobic, Trump-loving, cis straight white man.”
Saga continued her anti-eulogy by declaring that “You are everything I aspire not to be and I refuse to stand up here and sing the praises of a man who was the paradigm of white supremacy.” Nonetheless, Saga added, she would still “take your money”, I suppose a reference to her old man’s will. In a to-camera commentary added to her lecture online, the dead-eyed little Puritan with a nose-ring added that she would never be deterred from speaking her mind by “the common misconception that we’re supposed to respect the dead.” (Note: This same principle may not apply to St George Floyd)
Saga was applauded by some other mourners [sic, surely?] as she left the lectern, whilst her posted speech received online approval like “So proud of you for speaking your truth.” Except it wasn’t really her truth, was it? It was a long litany of identikit, cookie-cutter sentiments doubtless imbibed wholesale from other far-left political groomers online. Had Saga been only a few years older, the chances of her affecting they/them pronouns, using made-up terms like “cis”, or claiming smugly to be a black supremacist would have been approximately zero.
China’s history is our future
Besides brain-rotting online neo-opium, China also appears to be purposely exporting its own 1960s/70s Cultural Revolution, when teenage students dubbed Red Guards rose up against their teachers and parents, denouncing, torturing and killing them.
The main enemies of the Maoist Red Guards were the infamous “Four Olds”: Old Ideas, Old Culture, Old Habits, Old Customs. In other words, the whole murderous debacle was a deliberately stoked far left war against the entire civilisation of the children’s forebears, both immediate and distant. Sound familiar? The Red Guards even ransacked museums, galleries and libraries, smashing, burning or looting the books and exhibits. The antinomian antics of the likes of Extinction Rebellion throwing soup over Van Goghs is not too distant from such phenomena.
If only the West’s neo-Red Guards had not dismissed the study of the past itself as an act of purest prejudice and anti-progressive bigotry, perhaps they would be able to see that history appears to be in the process of repeating itself here?
A house divided against itself cannot stand
I would not be paranoid enough to suggest China deliberately developed TikTok to smash Western civilisation from scratch – merely that, once the app was developed, its potential to widen already extant civilisational cracks abroad was noted and eagerly exploited. The most oft-cited prior observer of pre-existing Western civilisational fissures was Wang Huning, now a top adviser to President Xi, who visited the US in 1988, realising it was already riddled with complete societal contradictions and divisions from top to bottom.
Wang felt no society can exist or even truly presume to even call itself a society at all without a central core of shared assumptions to bind its citizens together. Yet in America these ties that bind had already severely dissolved back in 1988, when mobile phones barely existed, never mind TikTok.
“According to Aristotle,” Wang wrote in America Against America, his 1991 book-length write-up of his experiences Stateside, “the family is the cell of society.” Yet, in late 20th century America, this cell had since “disintegrated” and today “the real cell of society in the United States is the individual”, as implied by the Reaganite free-market policies of the time.
The likely end result? Balkanised, Lebanon-style conflict between competing and incompatible special-interest groups in a circular firing-squad culture war without any end. Or, as Wang put it, “[Today] American institutions, culture and values oppose the United States itself”, an excellent insight for 1991, when post-Cold War Western hegemony had just reached its absolute apex.
A fan of US scholar Alan Bloom, Wang endorsed Bloom’s complaint that a post-1960s American humanities education, with its tediously relentless emphasis upon reading texts through identitarian prisms of race, sexuality and gender, left university students largely ignorant of their nation’s past, its culture and achievements. Instead, a mood of endless cultural relativism was on the rise, something which implied Western civilisation was nothing special. But as Wang observed:
“when ideas end, so do the social institutions and ways of behaving guided by such ideas … The existence and functioning of any social system can never be validated by the letter of the law alone; it is first and foremost a matter of people believing in these fundamental values and being guided by them in the way they behave. If the value system collapses, how can the social system be maintained? … A society without a core value-system encounters the greatest political co-ordination and management difficulties … social harmony and institutional stability require maintaining the core part of a society’s value-system, otherwise a society’s value-system will come to an end, and it is inevitable that the whole society will fall into chaos and moral crisis.”
And that, Wang may almost have added, is how you end up with transgender teenagers standing up at funerals and denouncing their own fathers in order to accrue more “likes” from random ideologically sympathetic strangers online.
In truth, TikTok is not really destroying Western society, merely acting as a handy, cheap, Chinese-made accelerant upon an already raging wildfire, or like someone who hands a loaded gun towards someone hell-bent on committing suicide by some deadly means or other anyway.
By this point in time, even if the West does ban TikTok, there will very quickly be another cultural gun ready, locked and loaded for us to happily point at our own self-defeating foreheads. Maybe the ultimate weapon of self-extinction will indeed be stamped “Made In China”, but the suicidal impulse itself is wholly self-manufactured on our own home-soil.