Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

The Hottest TikTok Challenge? Not Sharing Data with China

Xi the wolf, Biden the hawk.
October 27, 2022
China's Gone Full Fascist & A TikTok Time Bomb | Not My Party With Tim Miller

[Editor’s note: Watch Not My Party every week on Snapchat.]

Tim Miller: As Chairman Xi consolidates his power, the threat level from China is rising. How is Biden cracking down? And most importantly, of course, what will it mean for TikTok?

TikTok user: ♪ Don’t take away my TikTok.

Miller: This is “Not My Party,” brought to you by The Bulwark. In China this week, Chairman Xi Jinping secured a third term, defying the norm that had limited previous leaders to just two.

Cheryl Tunt (from Archer): You said you weren’t a dictator!

Guru Pitka (Mike Myers from The Love Guru): I lied.

Miller: He did so in the fashion of a reality-TV drama queen, embarrassing his predecessor Hu Jintao, by having the 79-year-old get escorted out of the Communist Party Congress, as if he had just lost a surprise vote during the tribal council.

Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother): The tribe has spoken.

Noggin (from Paw Patrol): That’s not fair.

Jeff Probst (on Survivor): Come on.

Miller: This is just the latest deliberate move to centralize control and ramp up the “Warrior Wolf”-style diplomacy that Xi has implemented in recent years.

Evan (Polymatter voiceover): Today, Xi Jinping is effectively unchallenged, making him more powerful than any Chinese leader since Mao.

Jack Perkins (voiceover narrating the documentary China’s Peasant Emperor about Mao): He was also a womanizer.

Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell in Anchorman): Boy, that escalated quickly.

Miller: I just finished the Economist podcast “The Prince,” which covers the life of Chairman Xi. I recommend it, because the more you learn about his trajectory, the clearer it is that he’s taking China down a more aggressive and fascist path in the years to come.

Phil Ohlmyer (Jerry O’Connell in Mission to Mars): Great, great. Great, great, great, great, great.

Miller: With more violent crackdowns on protests in Hong Kong and elsewhere, and not-so-vague threats to invade Taiwan, speech controls on social media, and ongoing Uyghur repression, the “Winnie the Pooh president” has officially entered full sicko mode.

Mitch the baker (Tom Allen on Barry): Those are massive red flags, bro.

Miller: The Biden administration sees this clearly, and has been more hawkish on China than many expected.

Scott Pelley: U.S. forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?

Joe Biden: Yes.

Miller: Public perception is that it was Trump who was tougher on—

Donald Trump: China. . . . China. . . . China. . . . China. . . . China. . . . China.

Miller: I guess because he was willing to say racist shit like this?

Trump: Kung flu.

Amy Wong-Kroker (from Futurama): Knock it off.

Miller: But get this, Biden has maintained all the Trump-era tariffs—which, as a free market zealot, I don’t really love—while adding a bunch of new measures on top of it. He passed a China competitiveness bill that funds manufacturing of high-tech chips here in America.

College bros (from PCU): Chips! Chips! Chips! Chips!

Miller: He banned Americans from investing in companies that fund China’s surveillance and military activities. He put limits on U.S. companies’ ability to sell equipment that would help China expand their technological capabilities.

Tina Belcher (from Bob’s Burgers): All good ideas.

Miller: And this week the administration announced charges against thirteen Chinese spies that were trying to influence our judicial system.

Newsreader (voiceover): These cases were part of a broader effort by China to interfere with the United States.

“Kamala Harris” (Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live):  You call that human rights, China? I call it human wrongs.

Miller: And we haven’t even got to our TikTok conundrum. As y’all know, the Chinese app is pretty central to our lives and culture. National security experts around both Trump and Biden had advised that those administrations either crack down or ban TikTok altogether.

Trump: We may be banning TikTok.

“Joe Biden” (James Austin Johnson on Saturday Night Live): It’s the first war fought on TikTok, which is tough for me, because I’m the landline of presidents.

Little kid encountering a rotary landline (from Kids React): How does this even work?

Miller: Right now, the Biden administration is negotiating with TikTok executives on a deal that would prevent the company from sharing data with the Chinese government.

Lillian (Maya Rudolph in Bridesmaids): They do that, don’t they?

Miller: And while that’s an important step, what might actually bring the situation to a head is the TikTok algorithm. I asked my friend Chris Krebs—the former Trump cybersecurity expert who got crossways with the president over his election lies—what he sees as the biggest threat. [Quoting a text message from Krebs:] “Chinese Communist Party can control what you see, see where you are, see what’s on your phone. I’m most concerned about controlling and shaping content.”

Robin (from Teen Titans Go!): People are watching us?

Carter High booth coach (from the movie version of Friday Night Lights): All day long, baby!

Miller: Pew reported that more and more Americans are getting their news on TikTok. (Uh, I’m right over here on Snapchat. Tell your friends!) And this is where the rubber meets the road. Small tweaks to the “For You” page—to promote conspiracies, or issues that divide Americans, or pro-China propaganda—could have a massive influence on our national discourse and politics.

Mort Meyers (Jeff Garlin on Arrested Development): Oh, oh, that’s terrifying.

Miller: Given how fragile shit is in our politics right now, are we sure we want to give the Chinese Communists that much power?

Lawrence (Diedrich Bader in Office Space): No, man. Shit no, man.

Miller: I suspect not. And that’s why my guess is, sooner rather than later, TikTok could end up on the chopping block of our growing cold war.

Peter, King of Featherbeard (from Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness): Let’s hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Miller: The election’s less than two weeks away. Make a plan to vote and we’ll see you next week, for a “Not My Party” election preview and predictions.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.