It’s not just TikTok that’s in trouble. The open internet is too.
On August 6, President Trump issued an executive order prohibiting transactions with the video-sharing app TikTok. Since the app is owned by the Beijing-based ByteDance, it could pose national security and privacy risks to users in the US, the order states.
But the Trump administration’s actions targeting TikTok mark a departure from the traditional American techno-libertarian position on internet governance and free speech online. And it comes at a time when the concept of a global internet is under threat.
Nations are increasingly pursuing various forms of internet sovereignty, from Russia building a walled-off intranet to India regularly shutting down the 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 the video above, 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), countries supporting a free internet will need to establish a set of principles that ensures its future. But they may have to do it without the United States.
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