TikTok, the Chinese Trojan Horse

Joseph Cobo

Managing Director of A Seat At The Table

Will the emergence of TikTok, the fastest growing app in history, create a Chinese Trojan horse in the West?

Who is stopping TikTok? The rise of the popular social media platform of Chinese tech giant Bytedance is a thorn in the side of big tech in Silicon Valley and policymakers in Brussels, Paris and Washington.

Growing tension in the Elysee in Paris (French President Emmanuel Macron has criticized the platform on several occasions), in Berlaymont in Brussels (the European Commission has two investigations into the statute for possible privacy violations) and in the White House (former US President Donald Trump and his successor Joe Biden have taken the app into their own hands). multiple times) It should come as no surprise.

First of all, there is the explosive growth. TikTok is the fastest growing app in history. In just five years, the platform has attracted more than 1 billion users, including 250 million in Europe and 3 million in our country. The app is especially popular with teens and people in their 20s.



On the Belgian TikTok ecosystem, there are a wide range of questionable channels that spread misinformation, hate (misogyny), and glorify crime and extremism.

The pace at which TikTok attracts new users and the time they spend on the app on average blows competitors’ socks off. The innovative algorithm of parent company Bytedance – one of the leading AI and machine learning developers in China – ensures one of the most addictive experiences in the world of social media and smartphone apps. Bytedance takes advantage of infinite scrolling like no other, which we also find on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to keep users glued to the platform.

It’s not the addictive effects of TikTok’s algorithm that are turning younger users into dopamine junkies that worry policymakers in the West. However, the invasive data collection by the app and Bytedance’s close ties to the Chinese Communist regime. TikTok collects, among other things, identity data, internet search history, location, movements, phone contacts, biometric data (face and voice) and keystrokes of its users on their smartphones.

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Western intelligence and defense circles fear that with the advance of TikTok, we have brought in a Trojan horse. Bytedance’s opaque and intrusive data collection practices and the Chinese government’s deep interference and control of domestic technology companies create a host of serious security risks – espionage, sabotage, oppression and extortion for citizens, journalists, politicians, corporations and institutions – at the expense of the West.

In addition to the extensive collection of user data, the poor content moderation on the platform also plays a major role in criticism. On Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, Bytedance offers — read: wanted by the Chinese government — a kid-friendly version that mainly offers educational videos to its young users and sets a daily 40-minute limit. There are no such restrictions in Belgium.



There are important questions to be asked about the chaos on the platform, the vulnerability of its young users, and the data collection by Bytedance.

In the Belgian TikTok ecosystem, you will come across a lot of cool, interesting and informative content that is little or no different than what we encounter on other social media. At the same time, there is also a wide range of questionable channels that spread misinformation, hate (misogyny), and glorify crime and extremism. This is a problem, if you know that TikTok scores best in the 11-19 demographic.

We often find private accounts glorifying and promoting Antwerp’s drug trade, depicting senseless acts of violence and vandalism, and feeds streaming straight from Belgian prisons, including one that follows Marc Dutroux’s tracks in Nivelles Prison. Criminals give advice on how best to commit a robbery or robbery. Unknown dealers brandish their profits from the drug trade. Young people play cat and mouse with the police every day and wreak havoc in the Brussels North station area.

TikTok is one of the most creative and innovative social media platforms in recent years. But there are important questions to be asked about the chaos on the platform, the vulnerability of its young users, and the data collection by Bytedance. The negligence of our policy makers can do more harm to our region than the cunning tricks of Odysseus in Greek mythology.

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