TikTok’s in trouble. But so is the internet as we know it.
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On August 6, President Trump issued an executive order prohibiting transactions with the video-sharing app TikTok. His order said that because TikTok is owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, the app could pose national security and privacy risks to users in the US.
But the Trump administration’s targeting of TikTok marks a departure from America’s traditional position on internet governance and online free speech. And it also comes at a time when the concept of a global internet itself is under threat.
Today a growing number of countries are pursuing various forms of internet sovereignty — from Russia building a walled-off “intranet,” to India regularly shutting down its internet in areas of social unrest, to some European nations introducing a “right to be forgotten” from search engines.
All these trends point in the direction of a “splinternet,” where your experience of the internet increasingly depends on where you live, and the whims of the ruling parties there. As we explain in this video, that’s a tough environment for an app like TikTok, which became globally successful almost immediately, and which connects people from around the world in hyper-personalized but often international subcultures.
With the excesses of the open internet visible daily (see: foreign election interference, data breaches, misinformation and hate speech, and domestic and corporate surveillance), the countries that do support a free internet will have to work hard to secure its future. But they may have to do it without the United States.
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