TikTok, Trump, and Our Kids’ Attention

It’s hard not to think that Trump’s announcement last night that he will ban TikTok in the United States is either another attention diversion from the terrible economic news and his handling of the virus OR if it’s the result of a personal grievance after TikTok users claimed responsibility for the Tulsa Trump Campaign ticket disaster that led to nearly nobody showing up.

He cites the company’s ties to China and privacy and data issues, which is something to be legitimately concerned about and something I have tried to follow over the past year. Unfortunately, you can’t trust a Liar In Chief like our president on anything. His motives are almost always personal and fueled by grievance.

It’s also true that Trump rarely follows through on anything he says (Where’s that health care replacement he keeps saying is coming, three years later?) He doesn’t have the stomach for any real governance, just for headline grabbing. (which, to give him credit, he is a genius at).

Maybe he’s trolling us on TikTok, too.

I’ve written about TikTok before because it was the start of school last year (so long ago now in memory, in a pre-Covid time) that so many of sixth graders were not only talking about TikTok as the app of the moment, but throughout the year, they would break into popular dance movements whenever we were lined up to go anywhere. The viral nature was another level of attention. (See this blog post and this one and this one)

I also shared how we had discussions in class about the possibilities of China having an influence on TikTok and whether the gathering of information from the app on users was being shared with the Chinese government (that part is not clear but there were enough signs about its data collection to be worried, and enough worries to talk about it with my students during our lessons about digital platforms and privacy).

And I also know, with the Pandemic closing of school in the Spring, TikTok became a refuge of connection and entertainment for so many of my students, who were making videos as much as watching videos on the TikTok feed. TikTok and YouTube were the most used platforms by young people, I would venture a guess.

So I wonder what young people will think now that the president has decided TikTok should be banned outright, and may use his presidential emergency powers to do so (I don’t quite understand how, and I suspect legal challenges will tie it up for a long time, and that this still accomplishes Trump’s goals of diversion in the news and minds of the country as people are dying on a daily basis from government incompetence). He claims a ban could happen as early as today.

I also think that so much of what the president and Congress does seems intangible and removed from the world of young people, but not something like this. If the president bans their favorite app, and shuts down their main connector to friends and entertainment just as the anxiety of school re-opening is taking hold, young people may be most affected, and perhaps, may become political as a result.

Or they might just shrug shoulders and move to the next ‘big thing’ app, whose name we (or at least, I) don’t yet know but probably is already gathering steam just beyond our adult sight-lines.

I’ll ask them when I meet them in a few weeks.

Peace (plug it in),

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