Mike Pence Rues the Day

Gail Collins: Bret, I feel obligated to start out by asking you — TikTok? Potential foreign agent?

Bret Stephens: I think of TikTok in two ways. First, as a gigantic vacuum cleaner of personal data — possibly including your location — that goes directly from the unsuspecting eyes, thumbs and minds of its 170 million users in America to a company based in Beijing and beholden to the Chinese Communist Party. Second, as a potential conduit of disinformation, steering users toward content that could be used for mischief in, say, a critical forthcoming presidential election.

That’s why it has been banned in India and curtailed in France, Canada and other countries. That’s why I’m glad the House voted overwhelmingly to require TikTok’s Chinese parent company to sell the company or else face a ban in the United States. And that’s why the Senate should do likewise, despite Donald Trump’s opposition. When TikTok’s most notable supporters in Congress are Marjorie Taylor Greene and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you know it’s a true threat. Your thoughts?

Gail: Gonna immediately acknowledge you as our new-tech online-culture expert.

Bret: I’m no expert. I merely have screenager kids.

Gail: But I’m one of those First-Amendment-concerns people. You start by saying no tech/media companies headquartered in China — what next? Can you imagine all the information providers Trump would like to scrap? Of course, TikTok currently isn’t one of them — perhaps it has something to do with a serious financial contributor of his who’s in TikTok’s corner.

Bret: There are plenty of vehicles for expression that don’t rely on proprietary algorithms ultimately controlled by authoritarians who have perfected the surveillance state on their home turf and are attempting to do likewise on ours. This is George Orwell’s Big Brother, disguised in the form of 15-second silly-face videos.

Gail: Speaking of our friend Donald, what did you think of Mike Pence’s announcement that he won’t support Trump for president? On one hand, pretty obvious given the murderous anti-Pence uprising Trump helped stoke after he lost the election. On the other hand, there are so many other people you’d think would be opposed to Trump’s return to power who are throwing in the towel. Like Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, who Trump attempted to bully into lying about the presidential vote tally in his state.

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