Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


TikTok and geopolitics: how ‘digital nationalism’ threatens to entrench big tech

The massive digital platform market has until recently been dominated by a handful of US-based companies such as Facebook and Google. However, as foreign governments and competing platforms try to erode this domination, platforms are becoming a new sphere of geopolitical maneuvering. 

The European Union wants to gain more control over international tech companies and achieve more independence in the digital arena. India has banned 177 Chinese apps on the grounds they are “prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India.” 

And in 2020, the then US President Donald J. Trump spent months attempting to ban the Chinese-made video-sharing platform TikTok or force its sale to an American owner. While some claimed Trump was piqued by a supposed prank against him by teenage TikTok users, a look at statements from US government officials over the course of the year shows geopolitical concerns were the main driver. 

If governments are continue to be driven by “digital nationalism”, the US-based big tech companies are likely to continue to dominate. 


TikTok is the first social media platform born outside the United States to become a significant rival to Silicon Valley incumbents such as Facebook and Instagram. The short-form video platform rose to prominence in 2019 and, by early 2020, was the most downloaded app globally. 

Since its rise, TikTok has come under intense criticism from governments around the world, who question whether ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, sufficiently protects users’ data against access by the Chinese state. 

However, the way TikTok treats user data is not very different from what its US counterparts do. There is little to suggest the platform poses any singular national security threat. 

The company releases transparency reports similar to those of Google and Facebook. A Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assessment reportedly concluded there was no evidence the Chinese government had intercepted TikTok data. 

TikTok’s Chinese origins can be used to oversimplify the platform’s actual territorial connection to China. ByteDance was founded in China but it is incorporated in the Cayman Islands and operates as a multinational with subsidiaries in Australia, the US, the UK, and Singapore. 


The backdrop to Trump’s stance towards TikTok was an intensifying contest between the US and China over the strategic value of the digital environment. Who gets to extract economic value from the platform economy? Who gets to exert ideological influence through vast sociotechnical systems? Who enjoys strategic advantages from control over and access to data and infrastructure? 

As today’s global tech platforms have developed, they have largely mirrored the shape of classical geopolitics: the US has dominated. Recently, however, Chinese technology firms have flourished, expanding China’s economic and strategic capacities. 


TikTok teens may have successfully pranked Trump, but his actions and rhetoric fit within a geopolitical agenda articulated by others within the administration. 

On June 24, 2020, US national security advisor Robert O’Brien spoke publicly on the topic of the Chinese government’s “ideology and global ambitions.” He warned China posed a threat to US citizens and explicitly implicated TikTok. 

Two weeks later, on July 6, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested TikTok should be treated like Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company that is effectively banned in the US. 

On July 31, 2020, Trump announced he was planning to ban TikTok. 

Several days later, Microsoft released a statement explaining that its representatives had spoken to Trump directly regarding the acquisition of TikTok. When questioned about his talks with Microsoft, Trump stated: 

[…] it can’t be controlled, for security reasons, by China. Too big, too invasive, and it can’t be. 

On August 5, 2020, the US Department of State announced an expansion of its Clean Network program, which has the stated objective of “guarding our citizens’ privacy and our companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party. 

Expansions to the program included five policies aimed at reducing the presence of China in the US. These policies limited the use of Chinese telecommunication carriers, applications sold in app stores and pre-installed on devices, cloud services and undersea cables. 

The following day, Trump issued an executive order forcing the sale of TikTok to a US company on the grounds that TikTok posed a threat to “the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. 

Ultimately Trump’s executive orders were blocked in the courts and the ban and forced sale never implemented. 


TikTok provides welcome competition to the platform incumbents. If real competition in the sector were to increase, requiring the incumbent platforms to compete for users, we might see further innovations in the platform market and a less concentrated tech sector. 

So far, however, the US government has explicitly focused on the geopolitical implications of the rise of a Chinese platform. Whether the Biden administration will continue this approach remains to be seen. 

Both the US and China have a long history of shielding strategically important industries. For those concerned with increasing competition and diluting the concentrated power of the dominant technology firms, the rise of digital nationalism is a new obstacle. 

Moving forward, policymakers may need to overcome nationalistic impulses if they are to increase global competition in the international platform market. And both US and Chinese rule must be rejected if we are to decentralize power within the digital environment. — Joanne Gray/The Conversation 

Joanne Gray is a lecturer in the School of Communications and chief investigator of the Digital Media Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology, Australia. 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. 

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Stay informed and entertained, for free.
Your information is secure and your privacy is protected. By opting in you agree to receive emails from us. Remember that you can opt-out any time, we hate spam too!



  Spotlight is BusinessWorld’s sponsored section that allows advertisers to amplify their brand and connect with BusinessWorld’s audience by enabling them to publish their...


Notice of Annual Stockholders’ Meeting Notice is hereby given that the Annual Stockholders Meeting will be held on Monday, June 20, 2022 at 8:30...


Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr speaks to foreign correspondents at his headquarters in Mandaluyong City, Philippines, May 11. — REUTERS By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza,...


FORMER Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio S. Balisacan, former Labor Secretary Bienvenido E. Laguesma and migrant workers’ rights advocate Susan “Toots” Ople have accepted presumptive...


By Revin Mikhael D. Ochave, Reporter THE Philippine economy may expand at a slower pace if it fails to become a member of the...


Containers are seen at the Manila port area. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ EDD GUMBAN VARIOUS business groups, which include shipping companies, truckers, exporters, and customs...

You May Also Like


Having a good Instagram marketing agency to back up your Instagram account is an absolute must going into the new year. With competition stronger...


Ivermectin, an existing drug against parasites including head lice, has had a checkered history when it comes to treating COVID-19. The bulk of studies...


Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder in the global population. Therefore, it is a problem that many people suffer or have suffered throughout...


As a traditionally rigid insurance industry becomes bogged down by antiquated processes and operations, a handful of industry leaders are seeking to shake things...

Disclaimer:, its managers, its employees, and assigns (collectively "The Company") do not make any guarantee or warranty about what is advertised above. Information provided by this website is for research purposes only and should not be considered as personalized financial advice. The Company is not affiliated with, nor does it receive compensation from, any specific security. The Company is not registered or licensed by any governing body in any jurisdiction to give investing advice or provide investment recommendation. Any investments recommended here should be taken into consideration only after consulting with your investment advisor and after reviewing the prospectus or financial statements of the company.

Copyright © 2021 SmartRetirementReport. All Rights Reserved.