Why America Is Afraid of TikTok

Why America Is Afraid of TikTok

  • The company’s founder says in an interview that he wants it to be “a window” on the world. A Republican senator says it is a “Trojan horse.”

Zhang yiming embodies what the United States wanted China to be. He is the founder and chief executive of a company, ByteDance, that owns a wildly popular social-media platform, TikTok. He is a serial entrepreneur, having built multiple apps and search engines. Zhang’s story is one not of a copycat or a cost-cutter—the tired stereotypes of the Chinese business owner—but of an innovator.

For most of the past half century, one of Washington’s primary foreign-policy goals was to create more Zhangs. The United States believed that it could transform Communist China into a society more like its own—wealthy, free, inventive, and open, a place where a nobody like Zhang, with little more than smarts and the tools of capitalism, could build the businesses and think of the ideas that would change the world.

To a degree, Zhang is proof that the U.S. succeeded. TikTok may be Chinese, but it has been embraced by Americans as their own. While Facebook is for sharing baby pictures, Twitter is for political ranting, and Instagram is for showing off how popular you are, TikTok has a certain silly simplicity—a forum where you can dance in your living room, lip-synch bad jokes, capture animal antics, and share other slivers of your personal life.