The TikTok drama seems to be coming to a close in the stupidest way
Microsoft has dropped their bid to acquire the social media company of the moment and now it looks like Oracle will figure out a deal where they provide data services for U.S.-based distribution. It’s unclear what happens to the rest, and it seems like control of the product and algorithm are likely to remain with Bytedance, in China. There are, at least, a few good tweets.
Beyond the day-by-day news, two things strike me about where this is landing. The first is there are a bunch of takes that seem to imply that Oracle “won” this deal due to its coziness with the Trump administration. It’s clear there’s a quid-pro-quo happening here, but I’m not sure it’s as simple as Larry Ellison throwing a fundraiser so the government threw the deal their way. I’m sure Oracle is happy to provide cloud services for a hot startup, but there are plenty of reasons this deal makes no sense. What seems just as likely is Oracle is the one providing cover for Trump, who can then reassert himself as a very stable business genius, and in exchange Oracle gets a leg up on some lucrative government contracts.
What’s most distressing about that, beyond the clear oligarchical corruption, is in order to go through all this, Ellison and the top execs at Oracle must think there’s a good chance Trump wins re-election. I don’t think Ellison is any kind of a delphic sage (you’re welcome for avoiding the obvious pun here), but he is a smart fella with plenty of inside access. Let’s hope he’s wrong about which way the wind is blowing and this entire affair becomes a textbook example of why doing business with autocrats is thoroughly anti-American.
The other thing about this whole catastrophe is just how perfectly emblematic it is of everything that’s wrong with not just Trump’s genuinely terrible approach to government but also his entire worldview. I tend to agree there is a good reason to be skeptical of TikTok from a national security perspective based solely on the fact that it’s parent company is a de-facto part of the Chinese Communist Party1. Everything about else about this, though, truly sucks, as only it could when Trump is involved. But for Trump, that’s exactly the point — all of the drama, the needless posturing, the grossly transparent transactional hectoring between economic superpowers and trillion-dollar companies — it’s all good for Trump as long as he gets to be in the middle of it. What a disgrace.
I’m wary of TikTok for the same reason I’m wary of U.S.-based social media companies, particularly Facebook — the ownership at the top may be different, but the mechanisms that drive engagement and abuse are all the same. ↩︎