CHINA TALK | Government and Social Media Recap

On the 12nd of October, CDS held the first China Talk of this semester. Four guest speakers from different disciplines (media and communication, law, political-economic and U.S. politics) were invited to the event, sharing their opinions around the topic of “Government and Social Media” in a webinar panel. Grounding on the incidence of U.S. TikTok ban, the talk aimed to provide an understanding of government intervention in the social media industry, with three particular focuses on 

-      The political motives behind the ban

-      Potential consequences of the ban

-      Future development of the relations between the government and social media 

1.  The political motives behind the ban

The first section illustrated motives behind the U.S. TikTok ban. Dr. David indicated that the role of executive orders serves as an alternative for the president to conduct something that would not get approved by the Congress. He also mentioned that the legitimacy of this order is left to the American legal system for further arbitration. 

When it comes to the question that to what extent will the TikTok ban improve the US national security, speakers shared their diverse opinions. In particular, Prof. Vivienne mentioned that the major motive of the ban is to minimize the risks of China accessing US data. Moreover, John also indicated that the ban might serve for the ‘America First’ policy. He links to the notion of ‘Cultural Imperialism’ that the US, as one of the strongest empires in history, shapes the global information flow and the social media platforms. However, as Prof. Michael indicated, the advent of TikTok is a striking example that breaks down the technology monology of Silicon Valley, which inevitably challenges the American power in framing discourse and cultural domination. 

2. Potential consequences of the ban & Future development of the relations between the government and social media 

Moving onto the potential consequences of the ban, in terms of the potential interests clashes between the government, social media corporations in public, Prof. John suggests another way of understanding the government-platform relationship. He states that we should not view the platforms as a particular industry but an intersectoral consolidation, a combination of various industries which makes it more alike to public infrastructure. Hence, the way to deal with such public utilities leads to regulation. 

In terms of the backlashes such ban on TikTok may create amongst the US general public, Dr. David holds the view that the US government would not be worried about the electoral backlash due to the ban of TikTok. He points out that young users of TikTok do not have very strong political power due to the conditions of American democracy. Hence, the US government would not worry about backlash in such groups as a result of the TikTok ban.

From the perspective of government’s political capacity of isolating transactional social media platforms, Prof. Vivienne states that Western governments do not have the political capacity to do so. She points out that Western governments do not have the habit of controlling social media platforms strictly as China has been doing. Hence, it will cost more resources to actually isolate such platforms.

© Copyright The University of Sydney China Development society, 2017