Over the past few weeks, I’ve been closing in on the magical 1,000-follower goal. This will enable me to do live events and enjoy other perks. And this is happening when TikTok is about to be banned in the United States.
“But we have to ban TikTok! The Chinese government can mine our personal data,” the politicians cry through microphones made in China, or tweet on smartphones made in China, or post on their websites hosted in various countries with computers made in China. Of course, the same politicians have no problem allowing Facebook, Google, Twitter, and scores of other corporations mine their personal data, while bots from hostile countries post on their social media feeds. (It’s interesting to see the China-bashing politicians and media personalities who cuddle up to Russia and Putin.)
But we still have to get rid of TikTok in the name of public safety, right? But people do lots of terrible things in the name of “public safety,” as any trans person will attest. In the case of banning TikTok, it means destroying a community for the spurious of reasons.
I joined TikTok, as many writers do, for the BookTok community. It enabled indie authors like me to connect, share ideas, and reach out to readers. While I do this through my other social media platforms, video gives an immediacy and personal connection you don’t find in text. We stitch, comment, and reply. In the process, I met some wonderful people.
But my For You Page introduced me to other types of people. I laughed at the comedy of Carter Anderson and Ben Brainard, explored rare books with Tom Ayling, and had my commitment to retire from chocolate challenged by the artistry of Amaury Guichon. Mostly, I got introduced to political and personal insights I wouldn’t know about anywhere else. I learned about the deconstruction movement, the suffering people are facing at the hands of callous and draconian legislation, and first-hand experiences of those living through war zones and humanitarian crises. Video gives a directness, intimacy, and connection I wouldn’t find elsewhere.
And all of this would be wiped away if TikTok was banned.
It would be nice if we could have a truly free public space where we could gather away from pushy advertisements and snooping corporations and governments. But commercial spaces have always been gathering places—whether it is the town square, bazaar, or the malls we hung out at in the 1970s and 1980s. These are the places where we rub shoulders with each other, encounter people who differ from us, gossip and tell jokes, and build communities. And with the Internet, those meeting places and those communities have become global.
And when governments become repressive, the first thing they do is shut down those gathering places. That’s why the real danger doesn’t come from TikTok. It comes from those who want to restrict where people can meet and what information they can access.
All social media platforms need to do a better job of protecting user privacy, stopping the spread of dangerous disinformation, and protecting user safety. Shutting down these platforms is not the way to do it. This would cause us to lose the gathering places where we have built communities.
This is why I hope to see TikTok continue. And I hope to hit 1,000 followers.