Financial TimesFinancial Times

TikTok’s Extraordinary Rise Signals a More Multipolar Internet

By John Thornhill

18 Aug 2022 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

For decades, the U.S. has created the norms that govern the consumer internet. But according to this smart FT analysis, the rise of Chinese-owned TikTok points to a “more contested future.”

Despite criticism as either too trivial or too threatening, the Chinese-owned platform has ‘out-blitzscaled the blitzscalers’ of Silicon ValleyFor anyone with shareable passions such as dance crazes, sea shanties, knitting patterns or Excel spreadsheets, TikTok is the place to be. The short-form, Chinese-owned video app has emerged as an accessible and playful global platform for 1bn users to indulge their obsessions, find an audience of like-minded followers and sometimes make money, too.

To those of a more conspiratorial mindset, however, the entertainment platform is an electronic Manchurian Candidate, creating the opportunity for the Chinese Communist party to manipulate public opinion, subvert democracies and peer into teenagers’ bedrooms. In June 2020, India banned TikTok following a border clash with China, cutting off 200mn local users from the service. The following month, then US president Donald Trump also threatened to ban TikTok over national security concerns — but lost the election before he could enforce the plan. This month, the UK parliament closed down its own TikTok account fearing data leakage. “The prospect of Xi Jinping’s government having access to personal data on our children’s phones ought to be a cause for major concern,” MPs warned.

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content