August 20, 2020

Beyond TikTok: Preparing for Future Digital Threats

By Kara Frederick, Chris Estep and Megan Lamberth

By the end of September, the American social media landscape will undergo a profound transformation, and we cannot yet map this new terrain. President Donald Trump’s executive orders targeting Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok and messaging and payments app WeChat are aimed at confronting China’s tech enabled illiberalism. This is a worthy goal, but his fitful approach undermines this objective.

Instead, the U.S. government should articulate and adhere to a country-neutral framework that looks beyond TikTok, understanding that actions today might (and ought to) set precedents for tomorrow. While Chinese platforms like TikTok currently present the most pressing use cases, they are only the preface to a much longer plot. Without a smarter approach, American policy will fail to successfully confront fast-growing, foreign-owned digital platforms with systemic data and information security vulnerabilities. Prior to any future executive orders aimed at Chinese companies, the president — with input from the secretaries of state, commerce, and Treasury — should articulate a set of principles-based criterion for this framework. This would help strengthen Washington’s broader efforts to offer an alternative to Beijing’s authoritarian, self-serving vision for the future of the internet.

Read the full op-ed in War on the Rocks.

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