Will TikTok Lead Trump to Build America’s Own Great Firewall?

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As all this news was unfolding, I kept coming back to a series of videos that have recently gone viral on TikTok in the US. They feature Chinese fashion influencers strutting down city streets in beautiful outfits, often in pairs. Many of the clips have garnered millions of views—they’re undeniably addicting to watch. They’ve even spawned an entire genre of copycat memes, which often poke fun at the subpar street style in American cities like San Francisco. What’s most interesting about them, though, is that the majority appear to have been originally uploaded to Douyin, ByteDance’s version of TikTok available only in China. Their virality suggests that normal Americans, who arguably know less about China than Chinese people do about them, have a genuine appetite for crossing cultural boundaries. The Trump administration’s latest actions will potentially only make that more difficult.

Because of language barriers, censorship, and the Great Firewall, little about China’s internet culture ever leaves its borders. That’s more true now than ever before, as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to limit physical travel. The US has also played a role: It recently disbanded important programs for cultural exchange, like the Peace Corps in China and the Fulbright Program both in China and Hong Kong. And President Trump has further inflamed tensions by using racist language, referring, for instance, to Covid-19 as the “kung flu.”

I worry that as more ties are broken, there will be less opportunity for real understanding between two of the world’s biggest superpowers. “I swear they’re from another world,” one commenter wrote below one of the most popular Chinese fashion TikToks, referring to the stylish people featured in it. If the US and China keep moving in the same direction, we really may end up living on what feels like two different planets.

Time Travel

One of the most enjoyable things about working at WIRED is digging through the archives. My personal magazine collection isn’t as extensive as Steven’s, so I decided to rummage through WIRED’s digital history instead. Today, I present you with this delightfully absurd take from 2007, when we published “Ten Reasons to Throw Away Your Cellphone.” Examples include “It knows where you are,” and “It makes you perpetually available.” Some things haven’t changed.

As a bonus, here’s a somewhat silly story I wrote last summer about my love for a tiny device I nicknamed Baby Phone. I will never throw it out, no matter what vintage WIRED has to say.


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