December 24, 2022
Common Sense: TikTokTek
By: Brent Regan
Persuasion, influence, marketing, campaigning, brainwashing, salesmanship, arguing, and The Art of the Deal, are all names for the age old process of convincing someone to see the world as you do. Some people are natural convincers while others have learned the skills. A few are so bad that they are an effective un-salesman, with a personality that drives others away.
One of the foremost experts, Robert Caildini, wrote a book on the topic: “Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion.” He describes the elements of effective persuasion and the psychology behind them.
The most persuasive arguments include visual elements, social proof, entertainment, status or scarcity, and repetition. If you wanted to design a system to persuade people, it would be a visual presentation that showed others in your demographic doing something entertaining while receiving likes or praise and it would make it easy for you to access multiple versions of a similar message. Such a system would not only be persuasive, it would be addictive. Such a system exists: the social media application TikTok.
TikTok allows users to upload and view short videos on a wide variety of topics. Once you select a video to watch, a machine learning algorithm (artificial intelligence or AI) presents you with similar videos you can also view. Users can shoot, edit and share videos and can like, follow, and comment on existing videos. TikTok users are typically younger than 25 years old and they find the app extremely addictive to the extent that it is now referred to as “Digital Fentanyl.” There are over 40 million TikTok users in the U.S.
Anyone who has experienced TikTok will attest to the powerful desire to tap the next video to get that dopamine hit when you are entertained or surprised. The machine learning algorithm quickly captures your interest and can then guide you, with a trail of video breadcrumbs, down any path.
During the last general election, many races were decided by narrow margins and the control of Congress, both House and Senate could have gone in either direction. One of the major issues on people’s minds was the recent repeal of Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. Which demographic would naturally have the greatest concern about this issue? Arguably the demographic that would potentially be most affected: young women.
What social media platform is preferred by young women? Most Facebook users are between the ages of 25 to 65. Twitter is predominantly men. YouTube does not have a preferred demographic. The social media application most used by young women, with its music, dance and cat videos is … TikTok.
TikTok is owned by the Chinese government, specifically the Chinese Communist Party. They control TikTok’s algorithm. There has been lots of concern and political rhetoric about TikTok’s users’ data falling into the hands of the CCP but this is just a distraction as the usefulness of user data is tiny compared with the ability to invisibly persuade millions of American voters.
Through the TikTok machine algorithm, the Chinese Communist Party has an unprecedented ability to affect the outcome of our elections. To believe that they have this power and they did not use it would be incredibly naïve.
Remember the “Russiagate” allegations that Russia had purchased advertising on Facebook in an attempt to sway the 2016 election? The CCP’s ability to influence elections through TikTok is several orders of magnitude more powerful than a few Facebook ads.
Trump, being a skilled persuader himself, recognized the danger TikTok presents and issued and executive order banning TikTok. That order was repealed by the current administration and replaced by an Executive Order to study the issue.
In spite of this there are multiple legislators on both sides of the aisle who are calling for a ban on TikTok. There are no legislators opposing the ban. It would seem near certain that this broad bipartisan support would result in the banning of TikTok shortly after the next Congress convenes.
Here is the interesting part. We know that the CCP has agents operating in this country. One has been discovered chauffeuring a prominent senator. Another has been uncovered sleeping with a congressman. The CCP has influence, not only by direct financial contributions but also through controlling access to Chinese markets. Given these facts, there is no political reason to oppose the banning of TikTok.
When Congress votes to ban TikTok we will know who votes against the ban, giving us a rare opportunity to find out who in Congress has been captured by the Chinese Communist Party.
It’s just common sense.