A Ban on WeChat and TikTok, a Disconnected World and Two Internets

Government Intervention: Good or Bad?
In the next few weeks, several things could happen to TikTok. It could be bought by a U.S. tech company, somehow banned by the Trump Administration, or receive punishment under CFIUS, a government agency reviewing the company’s 2017 acquisition of Muiscal.ly, which led to the creation of the popular video-sharing social network.

“TikTok will not be the last TikTok, there will be companies in the future that will be under similar scrutiny, and what happens with TikTok in the next few weeks will have ramifications for future companies,” said Megan Lamberth, a research assistant for the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

Some policy analysts from America’s closest allies welcome the latest hardline approach by the Trump Administration, saying government intervention is necessary under the current circumstances.

“We do need to apply some restrictions and often even some coercive aspects in a legal sense on businesses to prevent that kind of technology leakage in particular sectors,” said John Lee, former policy advisor to the Australian foreign minister at an event hosted by the Hudson Institute on countering China’s aggressive tech policies.

TikTok, a social networking app for sharing short user-produced video clips, and WeChat, a super app including messaging, social media and payment platforms, both collect extensive data on their users. The core concern from western countries is that the Chinese government will be able to access this data and potentially leverage it for espionage or blackmail. U.S. officials also worry that the heavy censorship of these apps will result in biased political opinions and increased spread of misinformation.

Lee added that developed countries need to bring business communities along in resolving these issues, but “can’t leave it to the business community or the market to work these issues out.”

Other experts warn there might be potential backlash from the government’s action to cut off Chinese rivals to American tech companies.

“The more the U.S. advances the idea of cutting off one country or another from the Internet in the way we use it, the more that type of scrutiny could come back and be applied to American companies as well,” Graham Webster, editor in chief of the Stanford–New America DigiChina Project at the Stanford University Cyber Policy Center, told VOA.

Mixed Reaction from App Users
TikTok is one of the world’s best-loved apps, with more than 800 million monthly active users in the United States.

WeChat, while not as popular in the U.S. as TikTok, is extensively used by the Chinese diaspora to connect with family and friends in China.

“I think my life will be hugely impacted if WeChat is banned,” said Helen, a Chinese international student at New York University (NYU). “WeChat is the only way of communication between me and my friends in China.”

Most chatting apps, such as Line, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram, are banned in China. Currently WeChat is the only “super app” connecting people living in the U.S. and China and offers cross-border payment options.

Kevin, who works in a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown, told VOA that it would be hard for him to connect with family back home. “I know some people who have houses here for rent and live in China, they are using WeChat to collect rent. If the app is banned, it will be a big problem for them,” he said.

Chinese Americans who spoke with VOA, meanwhile, do not seem to be concerned with the ban on WeChat.

“It’s not going to stop people from making other apps to chat, I don’t know what’s the point,” said Stanley, a nurse living in New York.

Fang Bing works for VOA’s Mandarin service. Adam Xu is tech reporter at VOA. Jiu Dao is VOA reporter. Monica Xu,  Wenhao Ma contributed to this report.This article is published courtesy of the Voice of America (VOA).