mraandtux last edited by
Poto last edited by Poto
I can understand why Donald Trump threatens to ban TikTok unless its US assets are sold to US investors. After all, China bans pretty much every non-Chinese social media app on its territory. Why should the rest of the world, including the US, let a Chinese app have a free ride in their markets? If you want to access the markets of other countries, you should also open your market to them – that would be fair.
However, the US move against TikTok is setting a dangerous precedent that may eventually kill the internet as a truly global network (or what is left of it). Before the US-TikTok saga, only autocratic countries like Iran, China or Russia were known for bullying tech companies into selling parts of their businesses to investors with close ties to their governments. It’s not surprising, for example, that Uber had to sell both their Russian and Chinese branches to local players.
I am proud that, unlike Uber, we at Telegram have always declined offers to sell our operations in specific countries. A few years ago we received letters from two funds with ties to countries that later attempted to block Telegram. Both letters expressed the same idea: “Telegram is going to get blocked in our country soon, so your only option is to sell us the local part of your business”. My response to those offers has been along the lines of my 2011 middle finger photo: we are not in the business of betraying our users. We are not selling Telegram – neither in part, nor in full. This will always be our position.
The problem with the US-TikTok case is that it legitimises an extortion tactic previously employed only by authoritarian regimes. For decades, the US has been perceived as the defender of free trade and free speech. But now that China has started to replace them as the main beneficiary of global trade, the US (or at least the Trump administration) seem to have become less enthusiastic about those values. This is regrettable, because billions of people on this planet still like the idea of an open and interconnected world.
Last week, Turkey introduced a bunch of laws limiting social media companies. A few years ago, the US would have had the moral right to criticise such efforts, citing freedom of speech and free trade as ideological foundations for their concerns. Today it’s less clear whether the US still has that right. Authoritarian leaders all over the world are already using the TikTok case as justification in their attempts to carve out a piece of the global internet for themselves. Soon, every big country is likely to use “national security” as a pretext to fracture international tech companies. And ironically, it’s the US companies like Facebook or Google that are likely to lose the most from the fallout.