Actor Ashton Kutcher is issuing a rather prudent warning about the influence China has to influence public opinion through the Chinese-owned app TikTok, a topic over which prominent politicians including former President Donald Trump have made quite a bit of noise in recent years.
The popular video-sharing app has exploded in popularity in recent years, but the owners close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, raising concerns that the authoritarian regime could be conducting intelligence through the platform.
Kutcher explained in a recent interview with Joe Lonsdale that the CCP may also be using TikTok to promote a “propaganda effort” to counter sympathies for Taiwan, a sovereign nation that China claims as its own.
As the Chinese Communist Party marked its centennial anniversary earlier this month, the regime has been heavily signaling they would be willing to exercise force to achieve their “One China” agenda, which includes the “reunification” of disputed territories such as Taiwan.
This also comes as the CCP has cracked down on previously largely autonomous Hong Kong, most recently driving the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily out of business after arresting several of its editors and executives and freezing its assets.
Kutcher believes China could use TikTok to “create a problem” in Taiwan.
He explained that while Americans are quick to agree with the concept of “media manipulation,” they might not believe that it’s happening in the sources they consume.
“I think that’s wrong,” he said, as quoted by Faithwire. “[I] think we’re about to face a reckoning in that particular domain, and it’s going to probably change what social media looks like in the future. My sense is that what social media is today is not what social media is going to be in five years.”
He said that he does not plan on allowing his kids to use social media “if the trend line continues on the path that it’s on today.”
“If the trend line pivots, as I think it likely will, there’s a chance that I will allow them to use it,” he added.
When it comes to TikTok, which President Donald Trump tired to have banned in the U.S. during his term, Kutcher predicts a “massive regulatory battle on the horizon.”
He explained that the platform presents China with an opportunity to manipulate perspectives on their potential aggression against Taiwan.
“If I’m China, and I want to create a problem in that area of the world — specifically a naval problem in the South China Sea — I would probably want to utilize TikTok in order to influence the minds of Americans,” he said.
Faithwire also noted that TikTok quietly began to collect users’ biometric data in June, including face and voice prints.
“We may collect information about the images and audio that are a part of your user content, such as identifying the objects and scenery that appear, the existence and location within an image of face and body features and attributes, the nature of the audio, and the text of the words spoken in your user content,” the recently-changed policy states.
“We may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information as defined under U.S. laws, such as faceprints and voiceprints, from your user content. Where required by law, we will seek any required permissions from you prior to any such collection.”
Another means through which China indirectly gains access to media and cultural influence is through the massive customer base their substantial population offers American corporations.
As Hollywood now routinely adjusts plots and visuals to pass CCP censors to be distributed in China, celebrities such as wrestler John Cena are forced to apologize for referring to Taiwan as a country under likely pressure from production companies who want to remain on the good side of the regime.
At least Ashton Kutcher is one celebrity who is willing to discuss the reality of China’s agenda and potential to influence narratives in the west.
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