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Irony of America’s TikTok ban

By: Abdulaziz Al-Anjeri
Founder and CEO
Reconnaissance Research

In a profound twist, the United States, a herald of free-market capitalism, has taken a step that seems to contradict its core values by banning TikTok. This move, framed as a safeguard against national security threats, actually uncovers a deeper discomfort: America’s struggle to maintain dominance in the digital sphere — a domain it invented and once ruled uncontested.

An illustrative example of this broader competition between the US and China is found not only in tech and cyberspace, but also in the physical realm of naval capacities. At a National Press Club event I attended in Washington, DC, in February 2023, US Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro highlighted a sobering reality. The Chinese shipyards’ capacity dwarfs that of the United States, signaling not just a challenge in maritime strength but emblematic of a wider contest across various fronts of national capability.

This direct comparison between naval strength and digital influence may seem disparate at first glance. Yet, it underscores a crucial point: the competition between the U.S. and China spans beyond mere apps — it is a holistic challenge that encompasses military, technological, and cultural dominions. America’s response to this challenge, particularly in the realm of digital innovation, has been to enact bans rather than foster competition or innovation.

Moreover, the focus on TikTok as a mere tool for misinformation misses the broader picture. Misinformation is a constant problem in the US and across all platforms, not unique to TikTok, as a single app. This realization is crucial.

The ban on TikTok, then, becomes a microcosm of a larger dilemma facing the United States today: how to navigate a world where its technological, military, and cultural hegemony is increasingly challenged. By choosing to ban rather than compete, innovate, or educate, America risks betraying the very principles of freedom and open markets it champions.

In confronting these challenges, America’s approach appears to be reactionary rather than principled. The decision to veto UN resolutions when outvoted, ban when outcompeted, and censor when outargued not only contradicts the nation’s foundational values but also mirrors the tactics of the authoritarian regimes it seeks to differentiate itself from. This paradoxical strategy reveals a significant gap between the ideals America stands for and the actions it takes, underscoring a need for a reassessment of how it engages with global competition and the digital age.

In short, America’s reaction to TikTok is not just a policy failure; it is a betrayal of what America claims to stand for.

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