The problem with banning TikTok | Summary and Q&A

August 29, 2020
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The problem with banning TikTok


TikTok's personalized algorithm and global appeal made it a success, but now it faces backlash due to internet nationalism and concerns over data privacy.

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Key Insights

  • πŸŽ₯ TikTok's frictionless personalization and interest graph approach, bypassing the social graph, made it an instant global success with over a billion users.
  • 🌐 TikTok's algorithm, fueled by massive amounts of training data, delivers personalized and eerily accurate content, connecting users globally and introducing them to like-minded individuals worldwide.
  • πŸ“Ά The rise of internet nationalism poses a challenge for TikTok, with countries like India, Australia, South Korea, and the US banning or threatening to ban the app due to concerns over national security and Chinese surveillance.
  • πŸ‡¨πŸ‡³ China's heavy state involvement in internet content, exemplified by the Great Firewall, sets it on the opposite end of the spectrum from the free and open model advocated by the US.
  • 🌍 Many countries, such as Russia, Turkey, and India, are shifting towards less internet openness, implementing censorship, shutdowns, and laws granting government control over social media.
  • 🌐 The fractured internet, or "splinternet," is emerging as national borders dictate online information access, with governments prioritizing their interests over a global web.
  • πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ The US risks abdicating its role as a champion of a democratic internet model if it bans TikTok, undermining its own technological leadership and promotion of internet freedom.
  • πŸ’‘ TikTok's emergence forces a critical question: when authoritarian states assert control over online speech, should the US respond by adopting the same restrictive measures?


Okay Joss, I want to start with an experiment where we swap TikTok login information to see just how different our feeds actually are. I don't know what it's going to reveal about me. I do wonder how different it's going to be. Nurse turns into a hot lady. OK so I just got literally the male version of that on yours. Look. Oh my god. Male nurse. Fe... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How does TikTok's design differ from other social media platforms?

TikTok's design focuses on building an "interest graph" rather than a social graph, bypassing the need for users to follow accounts and instead showing videos based on user interactions with content.

Q: What contributes to the accuracy and personalization of TikTok's algorithm?

TikTok's algorithm achieves accuracy and personalization through a massive amount of training data gathered from users watching short videos, which allows it to make eerily accurate predictions on what content would entertain users.

Q: Why is TikTok facing backlash and potential banning in some countries?

TikTok's Chinese ownership and concerns over data privacy have led to backlash and potential bans in countries like the US and India, who are worried about surveillance, censorship, and cyber espionage by the Chinese government.

Q: How has TikTok's success collided with the rise of internet nationalism?

TikTok's global success has clashed with the trend of internet nationalism, where countries are asserting more control over online speech and limiting access to content based on national borders.

Q: How does TikTok's situation prompt a debate over the openness of the internet?

The potential banning of TikTok and other actions against it raise questions about whether democratic countries should respond to authoritarian control over online speech by implementing similar restrictions, thus fracturing the internet further into a "splinternet."

Q: What are the concerns regarding TikTok's data privacy and Chinese ownership?

TikTok's Chinese ownership has raised concerns about the potential for user data to be accessed by the Chinese government, which has a history of surveillance, censorship, and cyber espionage. TikTok denies providing user data to the Chinese government.

Q: How has TikTok's global appeal impacted its growth and user base?

TikTok's global appeal enabled it to reach a billion users faster than other social media platforms, as it introduces users to like-minded people with similar interests, regardless of their geographical location.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • TikTok's success can be attributed to its design approach of bypassing the social graph and building an "interest graph" based on user interactions with videos.

  • The algorithm's accuracy and personalization are a result of the massive amount of training data gathered from users watching short videos.

  • The rise of internet nationalism has led to concerns about TikTok's Chinese ownership and potential data privacy issues, resulting in banning or potential banning in countries like the US and India.

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