The US government’s move to ban TikTok has raised concerns about whether it’s drifting away from its commitment to a free and open internet. This move seems to be driven by a kind of techno-nationalism that’s similar to China’s approach to internet governance. In the past, the US took a liberal-democratic approach to internet governance that valued openness, freedom, and decentralization. But now, policymakers are embracing protectionism in the name of national security, which seems to go against the US’s commitment to a free and open internet.
The reason for the ban on TikTok is largely related to national security concerns. However, policymakers used to believe that US private innovators and companies were superior enough to maintain market dominance, and this belief is now being challenged by TikTok’s popularity. As a result, protectionism in the name of national security is becoming more appealing. This shift to techno-nationalism might be motivated more by money than by ideology.
Those who support a techno-nationalist approach to internet governance could be harming the US’s creativity and the power of a web that values free expression and open competition among platforms. In order to win this competition, we need to stick to the US’s long-standing vision of an open internet. This requires developing policies that hold American and foreign corporations accountable for their shared pathologies and moving away from the idea that national security is the only thing that matters when it comes to internet governance.
The US needs to trust more in the innovative capacity of US technologists and startups and the vitality of American soft power in the form of its cultural output on every platform. Instead of understanding US-Chinese competition in purely defensive, military terms, we need to think about how to unleash these assets. Winning isn’t about banning TikTok, it’s about outcompeting it. Today’s competition isn’t about nationalist scrambles for technological supremacy. It’s about a nation’s commitment to its values and its ability to integrate those values into the technologies that shape our lives. Abandoning openness for protectionism and paranoia is like accepting China’s narrative of cyber sovereignty. The result is a less free, less democratic, and less innovative internet.