Donald Trump is moving against TikTok, threatening to shut down the social media platform in the United States if it is not sold to American interests.
One might argue his time, energy and attention would be better directed at curbing the COVID-19 pandemic that is killing roughly 1,000 Americans each day.
I am not aware of a TikTok death toll.
The president has made much of his anti-China strategy since taking office – or what he describes as a strategy. Trade policy, he argues, is designed to end China’s immoral trade advantages that he says went unaddressed by previous administrations. But at the same time, as documented in numerous news reports and in one or two books, the president seems intent on ingratiating himself with Chinese President Xi Jinping, reportedly going so far as to ask Xi to help him get reelected.
Going after TikTok on allegations the Chinese-owned social media platform can compromise users’ privacy, as well as national security, feeds into his hard line, go-after-the-bastards China rhetoric.
But could there be another motive?
Much was made – mistakenly we now know – of the work of young TikTok users in substantially reducing attendance at President Trump’s Tulsa rally in June.
Tens of thousands of young TikTokkers, it was reported, registered for rally tickets with no intention of using them, all in an effort to embarrass the president. Rally attendance was embarrassingly low, but the ongoing pandemic was more likely to blame.
Still, the under-the-radar social media campaign mounted by youngsters tells us something about young people and politics in the digital age. And it likely brought TikTok to the attention of a president who, with some pride, does not read the daily White House intelligence reports.
In one critical way there is no political downside. The president’s move appeals to his base. Tens of millions of young TikTok users can’t vote. An anti-Trump TikTok campaign will not have much political impact.
Which leads me to ask: Is it time to consider letting 16-year-olds vote?
Yes, the immediate reaction is one of head-shaking disapproval.
Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are far too immature to vote, some will argue. But when did we establish a maturity/voting correlation? There are a good many older voters whose emotional maturity lags behind a good number of 16-year-olds.
Sixteen- and 17-year-olds know far too little about the issues to vote with intelligence, some will argue. But when did we establish an intelligence/voting correlation? The evidence denying that presumption is everywhere to be seen on both sides of the political spectrum.
Sixteen and 17-year-olds do not understand basic civics, the nature of the Constitution and the separation of powers, some will argue. When … well the evidence is indisputable there, too.
Extending the franchise is not likely to happen, not now, probably not ever. But if government is going to go after the social media platforms that young people use and enjoy, then perhaps they deserve a voice in government policy.
Pay attention to TikTok over the next few weeks and see what users have to say.
Spokane's Steven A. Smith, formerly of Moscow, is clinical associate professor emeritus in the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho and was a professional journalist for 40 years. He retired from full-time teaching in May.