TikTok, Twitter, And The Future Of Social Media

This month started with two earthquakes in the tech and social media world. On November 1, Elon Musk took full ownership of Twitter and immediately began discussing major reforms, including charging blue checkered tweeters for her Twitter space and laying off large groups of employees, sparking a firestorm of criticism and attacks from other media outlets triggered.

The other, less publicized outbreak came on the same day, when FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr called for the popular social media platform TikTok to be banned because of its close ties to the Chinese government and Communist Party. “I don’t think there’s a way forward for anything other than a ban,” admitted Carr, similar to the ban the United States imposed on Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei.

These two stories summarize two models for social media platforms in the future: either as a tool for government to influence and control its citizens, or as a sounding board for citizens to shape government through the free exchange of ideas and opinions to influence.

Musk’s attempt to make Twitter a sounding board for free speech has proven highly controversial. He’s come under heavy fire, even from the White House. “Elon Musk took on a difficult deal with Twitter and quickly made it worse,” roars a CNBC headline. However, Musk seems determined to make Twitter a channel for free and independent discourse, and launched his own campaign against “misinformation” (a favorite bugbear of the Biden administration) by vetting the president himself. It’s no wonder Biden is upset, and in his recent press conference suggested that Musk’s ties to foreign investors who helped fund his deal to buy Twitter, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as possible threats to the country’s national security USA “should be considered”.

This seems ironic as this White House appears to have no concerns about TikTok’s ties to the Chinese military and intelligence community. The FCC’s Carr repeated many times the concerns expressed in this column about the backflow of US data to China via TikTok and the risk of Beijing using TikTok to covertly influence political processes in the United States.

For example, we know that TikTok broke its promise not to share data collected from American users with the Chinese government. We also have reports that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has told employees to send pro-Beijing messages to US users of one of their news apps. Of course, within China itself, both ByteDance and TikTok (known as Douyin) are obedient servants of China’s total surveillance state.

Although Carr admitted that the FCC does not have the authority to impose a ban, there is simply “no world where you could find adequate protection for the data, where you could have enough confidence that it wouldn’t get back into your hands.” achieve that [Chinese Communist Party]’ said Carr.

One of those who agrees is Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, as quoted in the same Axios interview. “Donald Trump was right about TikTok years ago,” Warner admitted. “If your kids are on TikTok… China’s ability to exert undue influence is a far greater challenge and a far more immediate threat than any sort of actual, armed conflict.” “

By comparing TikTok to Musk’s plans for Twitter, we end up with two competing models for social media development. On the one hand, it can shape and manipulate users’ mindsets under the guise of likes and entertainment, while leaking data to the government to use against their enemies and silence dissent.

On the other hand, it can be a free and open forum for the exchange of ideas and opinions, lightly imposing limits on freedom of expression, but also designed to protect users’ privacy, including their freedom of expression.

I have suggested that this protection can be extended by turning to a blockchain or distributed ledger system for Twitter’s future subscription model, which can both protect and authenticate the flow of discourse between users. Some startups are already adopting blockchain technology on social media. By taking the full plunge, Twitter may become the standard bearer for a new era of cybersecurity, and not just for social media.

The other remaining question is which model Facebook will go for. Mark Zuckerberg has already admitted, “I got it wrong,” with his hard-line take on Metaverse technologies even as his stocks plummet and his company falters. Also, maybe now he can admit he got it wrong by allowing his platform to become a tool for the government to silence stories it doesn’t like (like the discovery of Hunter Biden’s laptop) and to promote the stories and information she makes.

Anyway, its rivals TikTok and Twitter are now the antithesis of social media. It’s up to Zuckerberg which future he (and his users) prefer.

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