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Thoughts on TikTok
Mar 13, 2024
Episode 1117

Thoughts on TikTok

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Plus, a reminder to support public media.

Today, the House of Representatives passed a bill that could ban TikTok in the U.S. We’ll weigh the national security risks behind the app and its growing impact on American culture. Plus, how bitcoin bounced back, a crackdown on judge shopping (yes, that’s a thing) and why we’re glad our podcast isn’t owned by a billionaire!

Here’s everything we talked about today:

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Make Me Smart March 13, 2024 Transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Kimberly Adams

I’m ready.

Kai Ryssdal 

Jay, ready? Oh, guess we’ll go because Jay said we’re going to go. Hey everybody. I’m Kai Ryssdal. Welcome back to Make Me Smart, where we make today make sense.

Kimberly Adams 

I’m Kimberly Adams. Thank you for joining us on this Wednesday, March the 13th. And I meant to say it earlier in the week but forgot. Happy Ramadan to everybody getting going. Good luck with your fast if you’re fasting. And so, today we are going to do some news and then some smiles. So, let’s get to it.

Kai Ryssdal

All right let’s get to it.

Kimberly Adams

Go ahead. You have the bigger story.

Kai Ryssdal 

Well, so this is not a story that nobody has heard of because if you read the paper or listen to the news or watch the news if you have to. The story is everywhere. Congress, the House today passing the bill demanding that ByteDance, the Chinese affiliated. I don’t know if it’s actually Chinese. Well, whatever, it’s very close to China. ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, demanding the ByteDance divest of TikTok if it wants to do business in the United States. Who knows what’s going to happen in the Senate. The president through I think his spokesperson, Karine Jean-Pierre has said the president will engage with it and may sign it. So, it’s got some traction if it gets through the Senate. Here’s why I wanted to bring it up. I honestly can’t figure out how I feel about this thing. While I absolutely understand the concerns about TikTok, and the manipulation of the data, and the way that the algorithm could be manipulated to frankly, mess with people, including. You know what, as I say this out loud, this is very interesting. As I say this out loud, I’m realizing how I feel about it. What I was going to say was I don’t know how I feel about it, but there’s also a First Amendment thing of look, people are grownups in this country, and they can decide for themselves. Setting aside for a minute the fact that you know, half the people who use TikTok, are like kids or whatever. So, having said all that out loud in a very non-coherent way, here’s where I am now on this bill. I think it’s probably a good thing because democracy is fragile enough right now given our domestic concerns that the easily manipulated, manipulated, manipulatable, hundreds-ish of millions of people in this country use TikTok could do real damage. So, I think I’m coming down in favor of that bill. And I brought up because I’m curious as to what you think.

Kimberly Adams 

So, I have a multitude of thoughts about this. I’m going to latch on to your last point about, you know, sort of its ability to manipulate people, and I see it in so many different ways. So, I make no secret of the fact that I’m a single person who dates and if you consume dating content on TikTok, it very quickly sends you down some like Gender Wars. Excuse me, Gender Wars rabbit holes, and I’m hearing more and more from friends who are dating men, women, non-binary folks, everybody that it’s like, so damaging and toxic to hear all these negative messages over and over again, like about how bad it is out there. I mean, it’s not great out here. But like, it makes it in some ways worse. And that’s just, you know, a social aspect of it. When you think about the politics component, it entrenches people more deeply into their own echo chambers and reinforces your preexisting beliefs and with as polarized of a country as we live in, that can be even more damaging. But you know, you can also pop over to YouTube shorts or Instagram reels and get there. If they could have algorithms as good as TikTok’s, they would. They would love to be doing the exact same thing. And so, banning TikTok is not going to fix that problem. It may just export it someplace else. What’s more concerning is sort of this national security component about a company with, you know, arguable links to the Chinese government, consuming that much data and mass about what the American population is thinking and doing and potentially tipping the scales, especially when it comes to politics because you can tweak that algorithm and feed more misinformation or amplify videos that have messages that aren’t true or when you find out that you know, the Gender Wars are raging. Maybe you’re going to tap into that to make some, you know, political argument or you grab data about people’s viewing habits and use them to exploit you know, someone who has security access in some way. So, I think there are a lot of risks to it. Banning or divesting the company. It’s probably a safer thing from a national security perspective, but I don’t know that people will be able to hear it and accept it that way. This bill passed with so much bipartisan support. And when we talked, we talked about this several months ago, when the federal government was talking about, you know, banning TikTok from government devices. And we were saying how somebody has had a briefing somewhere with some really disturbing information about exactly what this app is doing on people’s phones. And we’ve heard some of it, but not all of it. And so, I generally do not like the idea of the federal of the, you know, the same thing as you the federal government, like telling grown folks like, what, what they need to be doing. But this one does seem to be a national security concern. I do think there’s a separate conversation about what these sort of social video algorithmically driven apps do to our culture that is not going to be resolved by this. So, that was a really long winded, but there you go.

Kai Ryssdal 

Look, thank you for working through that with me, because it was sort.

Kimberly Adams 

Yeah, I’m sort of stream of consciousness on this too.

Kai Ryssdal

Yeah, totally. Alright, what do you got?

Kimberly Adams

Bitcoin, which we haven’t talked about in a while. For people who follow this, they will know. Bitcoin is having quite the rally, I think it’s up to $72,000 on Tuesday, it’s probably still going up. And this is a rally that has created a new batch of Bitcoin millionaires. And so, all those folks who didn’t sell during the crash and were the true believers, I imagine they’re feeling real smug right now. And you know, looking at that, and feeling really good about staying in when a lot of people were getting out. But what’s more interesting to me is how and why this is happening. Because what has helped bitcoin recover is basically governments giving up on trying to keep bitcoin out of the sort of more traditional financial system. And there’s a story in ABC about a UK regulator giving the green light to cryptocurrency-backed investment vehicle. Obviously, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved a bitcoin exchange traded fund earlier this year. And in both cases, the cryptocurrency industry lobbied and sued these government agencies into submission to force their way into the formal financial system. And that has lowered the barriers for entry and allowed the people who were you know, the tech savvy super believers into crypto folks who stayed in to recover their losses, which is very fascinating to me.

Kai Ryssdal 

Totally, very interesting. $73,000 now and change. Going up still.

Kimberly Adams 

Wow. Yeah. So, there you go. That’s all I got. Let me do it in my own time.

Kai Ryssdal 

All right, you go first. Go ahead.

Kimberly Adams 

So, this is yet another very wonky policy story. But it actually did make me smile because it shows some solutions to something that has been an issue for a while. So, Republicans have very famously done this recently, but this is something that Republicans and liberals do. Republicans and Democrats do, I should say. If you have a federal policy that you don’t like, right? Activist groups or, you know, think tanks and nonprofits or whatever, will often sue the government or sue the agency saying, “this is unconstitutional. This violates my rights.” Right? That’s how you often change policy through the courts. What typically happens is these groups that go around trying to overturn policy will choose to file their cases in places where they think that case will end up before a judge that is sympathetic to their cause. So, for example, if you’re trying to overturn the FDA’s ability to send out abortion pills in the mail. Maybe you will choose to make the plaintiffs in your lawsuit be in Texas where you think that you’re going to end up in front of a federal judge that’s going to rule in your favor. And then when you’re appealing and things like that, it goes up a pathway of friendly judges. And this is something that liberals and conservatives have done for a long time. Well, now the federal judges themselves, I’m going to read from Politico here, “have moved to crack down on that tactic by adopting a new policy that mandates that all federal suits aimed at invalidating a national policy or statute or state law or executive order be randomly assigned among judges throughout the judicial district where the case is filed. The change means that challenges to state or federal government policies or laws filed in any of the nation’s 94 federal judicial districts will be subjected to random assignment among all judges accepting civil cases in those districts, rather than being retained in the particular geographic division where they are filed and assigned only to the judge or judges in that division.” And the judges themselves got together and made this happen. This is the Judicial Conference of the United States, which sets policies for the federal judiciary. And they basically got together and said, “We’re going to end judge shopping for these groups that are trying to overturn federal policy.” And I think that’s a good thing.

Kai Ryssdal 

Yeah no, I agree. It’s a huge, huge deal. There is one district court judge in like, West Texas. He’s the only judge in that district. And he’s the guy who ruled on.

Kimberly Adams

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk from Amarillo.

Kai Ryssdal

Yes, Kacsmaryk. Yes. Yes. And he’s the guy who after having been judged shopped invalidated mifepristone.

Kimberly Adams

The FDA approved him.

Kai Ryssdal 

Right. Right. Right, which and so, it’s super interesting to me that the judges actually did this by themselves because they recognize what a threat it is to their perception, right? By the American public upon which their entire credibility last. I’m glad you brought that up. Totally interesting. Totally interesting.

Kimberly Adams 

Yeah. I thought that was really fascinating. And Politico is the only one I saw even covering this. I was like, oh, this is a big deal.

Kai Ryssdal

Very big deal.

Kimberly Adams

Alright, what’s your smile?

Kai Ryssdal 

Mine is not so much a make me smile as it made me LOL. Those of you who follow media at all will know that Don Lemon got fired from CNN last year-ish at some point for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which was saying on national television that Nikki Haley was past her prime. He then a month or so ago, maybe a little more announced that he’d made a deal with Elon Musk to stream a new show on Twitter. And yes, I still call it Twitter. And so, the other day, he apparently taped an interview with Musk to air on the first day of that show on Twitter called “The Don Lemon Show,” set to start streaming Monday. Apparently, Musk didn’t like the way the interview went and has now canceled the entire deal with Don Lemon.

Kimberly Adams 

And this is what happens when billionaires control the media.

Kai Ryssdal 

Who didn’t see this coming? Right? I mean, yours is a much better point. Mine is, you freaking moron, how did you not see this coming? Yours is, billionaires have too much power. Too much power. Anyway.

Kimberly Adams 

And soul control, right?

Kai Ryssdal

Yeah, totally. Totally.

Kimberly Adams

And, you know, you have billionaire owners of other news organizations, and I’m using these organizations here broadly since I’m guessing he was trying to do a news or journalistic show on the platform. But you know, if Jeff Bezos wakes up tomorrow, and decides that the Washington Post should no longer have a firewall between what he wants and what the paper reports, there’s not much anybody can do about it. You know? Gentle plug here for our fundraising drive that we’re in, so that we don’t have to rely on billionaires to do the news, please.

Kai Ryssdal 

Oh my God. The link be on the show page, marketplace.org/givesmart. Nicely done.

Kimberly Adams 

No, but I mean, it’s real. You know, you and I have different career paths that we could have taken, and we are in public radio for a reason. Because at the end of the day, we know that’s not going to happen to us, because we don’t, we’re not accountable to a billionaire for what we cover or what we choose to talk about. And not everybody has that freedom, and we’re very lucky.

Kai Ryssdal 

Yep, absolutely right. marketplace.org/givesmart. Send us your money, please. Done today, back tomorrow. Until then, you know how to do it. Thoughts, questions, comments, or actually audio that you think we ought to talk about on the Thursday show, makemesmart@marketplace.org. Or you can leave us a voicemail 508-U-B-SMART.

Kimberly Adams 

Jay is so impatient with that theme. Make Me Smart is produced by Courtney Bergsieker. Ellen Rolfes writes our newsletter. Today’s program was engineered by the ever impatient, Jay Siebold. Thalia Menchaca is our intern.

Kai Ryssdal 

Ben Tolliday and Daniel Ramirez composed our theme music. Our senior producer is Marissa Cabrera. Bridget Bodnar is the director of podcasts. Francesca Levy is the executive director of Digital.

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