China expert Gordon Chang says President Trump’s executive order that would ban the social media app TikTok and WeChat from operating in the US if they are not sold by their Chinese-owned parent companies may have saved the American republic.
But maybe not his presidency.
TikTok owner ByteDance is in negotiations with Microsoft as well as Twitter about the sale of the program.
But Chang, a senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute, warned that the sale will not by itself resolve the threat to national security.
Chang pointed out that “any new owner will have to go over line after line of code to insulate TikTok from Chinese interference.”
Further, Beijing still will “know the general architecture of the software, thereby facilitating further manipulation.”
And the 45-day time frame Trump has allowed for the transaction means China has “plenty of opportunity to interfere in the upcoming American elections,” he said.
“That means Trump last week with his executive order may have saved American democracy but maybe not his own presidency,” Chang wrote.
TikTok has been accused of spying on software users and censoring content. It also is accused of mishandling information about minors, Chang explained.
“There are also concerns the app has vulnerabilities, allowing the surreptitious downloading of malicious software on devices. The most important allegation involves manipulation of users,” he wrote.
The software has been very popular, especially among teens, and is in more than 150 markets.
According to Trump’s executive order, there are more than a billion downloads of TikTok worldwide and more than 175 million in the United States alone. Analysts estimate there are more than 800 million active monthly users.
Its artificial intelligence uses information obtained from the user to customize its offerings.
“If you want to know a person, all you have to do is look at their TikTok feed,” Jonathan Bass, a buyer of social-media advertising, told Gatestone.
It creates “a profile of who you are, including your fears and vulnerabilities,” warned Paul Dabrowa, a security expert in Australia, Chang reported.
“Data is power. Artificial intelligence permits Beijing to profile a user and then to figure out what will motivate him or her. Specifically, TikTok uses data to curate content. Curated content, in turn, motivates people to act in certain ways. This is thought to be especially easy to do with the impressionable young, nerdy and otherwise,” Chang explained.
“TikTok, therefore, is a powerful selling platform. There is obviously no damage to U.S. national security if you were to use the app to sell, as does Bass, framed pictures, coffee table knick-knacks, and other accent pieces for the home.
“But what if you are trying to bring down the American government? TikTok would be extraordinarily useful. As Dabrowa told Gatestone, ‘My team discovered that TikTok can be used to trigger desired responses and behaviors.’”
Dabrowa warned “weaponized propaganda” can trigger wars, economic collapse, riots and “destroy the credibility of government institutions and turn a population against itself.”
In short, Chang explains the Chinese AI can “curate content … to motivate people to act in ways that China desires.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D.N.Y., claimed “teens on TikTok” damaged a President Trump rally by demanding “fake ticket reservations.”
Chang explained that experts contend if they can change consumers’ minds, they can program them.
Trump’s executive order allow 45 days for TikTok to be obtained by another company from its Chinese owner or be banned in the United States.
The White House sent a letter to the speaker of the House and president of the Senate explaining the move under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
“The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” the president said in his letter.
Trump said the companies obtain “vast swaths of information” about Americans through their software programs, which gives the Chinese Communist Party “access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”
The order bans U.S. companies or residents from business transactions with TikTok owner ByteDance and WeChat owner Tencent Holdings, beginning Sept. 20.
The president said “action must be taken to address the threat.”