Robert Reich: Who Do You Trust More With TikTok — China, Or American Billionaires? – OpEd


Should you be more worried about China siphoning off your personal data and manipulating your thoughts via TikTok, or American billionaires siphoning off your personal data and manipulating your thoughts via TikTok?

Personally, I don’t trust either. 

Which is why the current brouhaha in Washington over the fate of the popular platform is utterly beside the point. 

Rich Americans now lining up to buy TikTok, if the Senate goes along with the House and bans the platform from our shores as long as it’s owned by Chinese investors, include a hit parade of irresponsible billionaires — such as the corrupt former Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Trump lapdog investor Kevin O’Leary, and right-wing megadonor Bobby Kotick.

Not to forget multibillionaire Republican megadonor Jeff Yass, who already owns a $15 billion (yes, billion) stake in TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance. 

Yass is the biggest Republican donor in the 2024 election cycle so far, having spent $46.4 million. (He was the fourth-largest donor in the 2022 midterms, spending $56.2 million. In 2020, he donated $25.3 million, all to Republican candidates.) 

According to ProPublica, Yass has focused on candidates pushing for lower taxes, charter schools, campaigns against so-called critical race theory, abortion bans, and candidates who deny Biden won the 2020 election. 

He also spends on Trumpish “think tanks.” In 2020, he donated $20.7 million to the Club for Growth. And he and one of his partners, Arthur Dantchik — who, not incidentally, sits on the board of ByteDance — are responsible for a large portion of the donations to the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative right-wing Israeli think tank. 

Not surprisingly, Yass has given generously to politicians who have opposed restrictions on TikTok. And his Club for Growth is right behind him. 

After Trump recently attended a donor event in Palm Beach, organized by the Club for Growth, he reversed his position and said he opposed the TikTok ban. 

The Club for Growth has also hired former Trump aide Kellyanne Conway to lobby lawmakers to oppose the ban. Vivek Ramaswamy also reversed himself after a super PAC supporting his failed bid for the Republican nomination received money from Yass. 

Yass is not the only big American investor who has already plunked down billions for pieces of TikTok. The Carlyle Group, KKR, and General Atlantic have all invested, according to data provider PitchBook. 

The contretemps over the TikTok ban shows the power of America’s billionaires over public policies, even policies purporting to protect national security. It also shows the global reach of American billionaires over giant corporations, regardless of where they are headquartered — even ones like ByteDance that appear to be linked to the Chinese government. 

True, America’s billionaires aren’t in a global race with the United States for world dominance. But they’re in a race with the rest of America to dominate the United States — a race which should be of no less concern. The lure of unfathomed wealth can be as corrosive to the common good as a competing nation’s determination to beat us. 

We need to have a totally different conversation about TikTok — as well as the other giant platforms now scraping up our personal data and feeding us dangerous lies. Is TikTok really any more worrisome than X (formerly Twitter), Google, Facebook, and Amazon, and their billionaire owners?

The real issue here isn’t whether China or some American billionaire should own these platforms. It’s how to make them publicly responsible, regardless of who owns them. 

These social media platforms have become so large and powerful they should be treated as public utilities or common carriers — and regulated in the public interest. 

That’s my two cents. What do you think? (Here’s my interview with Joy Reid on MSNBC on the subject.)

This article was published at Robert Reich’s Substack

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

One thought on “Robert Reich: Who Do You Trust More With TikTok — China, Or American Billionaires? – OpEd

  • March 17, 2024 at 12:17 pm

    Right on Robert. Absolute wealth corrupts absolutely.


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