Banning successful movements like TikTok is the way to lose global leadership, not to regain it.
I guess you have noticed the swelling chorus to ban TikTok, the Chinese uber-social network. The motivation for the ban is the security threat from China represented by TikTok. It has de facto hacking rights over of millions of American users. No doubt that’s a legitimate reason but it sounds kind of weak to me. Why’s that?
TikTok is the nearest thing we have created globally to an innovation machine. Yep, it’s that strong. It has induced millions of users to create short-form videos which cover every area of human endeavor. It has influenced not just social media, but art, science, culture to mention just a few.
Where else does that happen? Maybe Facebook and Instagram in the old days but not until now (see below). TikTok is the uncrowned king of innovation. And it isn’t American, its Chinese. So, it’s brought in other diverse peoples across the globe who hadn’t really been involved before.
Note the mass part. Previous incarnations of the top-rating social media have been large mass movements but then have declined as familiarity bred contempt.. It was the short-form video that enabled TikTok to assume the role of the leader of the latest mass movement. And it came from an autocratic country, maybe the most autocratic. How does one get innovation in a hugely autocratic nation? Americans didn’t invent that; ironically it was the Chinese.
And note something else. The majority of users on TikTok are young (60% are between the ages of 16 and 24), and many are even under 15. Where is there a mass innovation machine that reaches youth, albeit not mainly Chinese youth. Isn’t that worth preserving?
Wouldn’t it be the thing to do to preserve this machine so its innovation benefits can be preserved at least for the moment? Is there a way to do it that not just reduces the innovation benefits but actually increases them instead? If so, how would you achieve that?
In my last post (“Harry and Meghan - Trash Talk Is The New Content Creation Last Mile”) I wrote about ChatGPT, the new AI-based content creation phenom. It’s pretty innovative too but its not a mass innovation machine, not at this stage anyway. Why not merge the two?
Even if TikTok the company wouldn’t sign on voluntarily, surely there’s a way to merge short-form videos with generative AI for images, something that’s just taking off now. I have tried out the new service from Shutterstock that allows you to generate your own images and its pretty cool. Looks to me like it would push videos several notches up the innovation ladder.
Where would that take TikTok to I wonder? I don’t really know but my guess it would take it into other spheres yet unimagined. The result would be a more innovative TikTok, or more innovative innovation machines, this time American in origin, if that’s what we really want to achieve.
But now there’s some change on the innovation front, perhaps unexpectedly from Meta (the old Facebook). It’s now claiming that its version of short-form video (called Reels) is now a real competitor to TikTok’s. We will see. Perhaps the market will solve this issue yet.
I’m sure the security-first mavens out there would tell me you can’t solve the security issue. But why not? Aren’t our intelligence cyber-people up to the task? If not, get some new ones, maybe Chinese even. The chances are that we the good guys (us) are already hacking TikTok to try to tame it just a little. Chances are that we’re doing more than that as we’re probably doing on numerous social media networks, in China as well as elsewhere.
Come to think of it, why wouldn’t we be able to use ChatGPT for other hacking exploits? Isn’t hacking just another form of content-creation? Can our cyber-sleuths join the innovation club too and AI-chat their way into TikTok in addition to all their other prizes?
It looks to me like the proponents of banning TikTok are shooting themselves in the metaphorical foot. We should be aiming for more not less and the security angles actually offer yet more creative possibilities. We indubitably have the neural wherewithal to do that, not just the Middle Kingdom.
Banning TikTok represents the victory of the bureaucrats and the autocrats, in America as well as China. Wasn’t that what Americans were supposed to be vanquishing?
Fight fire with fire, not cotton wool.
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