Banning TikTok Will Blow Up in US Politicians’ Faces

Leaving aside the various reasons why Trump would want to ban TikTok, which are almost entirely self serving, we need to take a step back and look at how banning an app from China could negatively impact US companies and if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

First, TikTok is a short video app that allows people to make both simple and sophisticated videos. Some are edited to present an entire scene others are just short videos of live action. They can be used for political commentary or just for humor. This isn’t the first App like this, Vine was the original TikTok and was widely popular, but Twitter was unable to monetize it, so they shut it down. Instagram has Instagram Live, Facebook has an app like this too.

However, the big difference between those apps and TikTok is that TikTok may have influenced the Tulsa rally and made Tump look back. The OTHER difference is that it’s owned by a Chinese company. There some fears that this means it will be used by China to collect information on American citizens and shared with the Chinese Government to do something back to our citizens. There’s “fear” that TikTok will influence the election in some fashion and will be, ultimately, influenced by the Chinese government.

To be clear, just about every social media company has to share information with their government. There’s currently an ongoing law suit in the EU about US social media companies and if they properly shield EU data. With that ruling, there are serious question if social media companies can send any data back to the US, since the US government routinely gets access to the data. That the US Government is a huge problem when it comes to social media companies.

Given that the US is looking to ban TikTok for something very much like what the EU just ruled that the US is doing, should give lawmakers pause before banning any other country’s social media platforms. If the US does something like this unilaterally, without going through any third party organization, like the WTO, then other countries may take that the opportunity to do the same for any company from a country they don’t like. If it’s good enough for the US, it’s good enough for us!

Furthermore, this flies in the face of the Neo-liberal economic framework the conservative movement in the US purports to support. Rather than government regulation, they should be pushing for Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, to compete against TikTok and defeat it in the market place. Given that they are instead resorting to regulations, indicates the fact that they are being opportunist here and simply doing this for political reasons. As it is something of a political platform for young people.

Additionally, since there are at least two known cases of Facebook actually influencing elections through external meddling, the US 2016 election and Brexit vote, it is likely that Facebook represents more of a threat to any given government than TikTok. Though, all platforms can be turned into a disinformation platform if enough actors decide it should be turned into a disinformation platform.

It should be viewed as likely that other governments would move to ban US based social media companies and services, like Google and Amazon because of their closeness with the US government. Amazon provides an AWS platform for the CIA and other three letter organizations.

Of course, this might all be moot, because it’s not obvious that the US government can even ban TikTok, as it IS such a huge platform for free speech. Regardless, keep an eye out for other countries taking a lead from the US government after TikTok is banned. It is likely that dictatorships will leap at this chance.

We should not ban TikTok. We should create laws and a framework that requires businesses to strongly protect user data on any social media platform regardless of if it is US based or foreign. We should expect to see more innovation from othe countries over the next few years and that Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft will all experience strong competition.

Corporate Responsibility and Black Lives Matter: Put Money Where Your Hashtags Are

Over the past week I’ve seen a lot of blacked out squares with some semblance of corporate PR speak about honoring diversity and supporting #BlackLivesMatter. Leaders have sent out emails within their organizations explaining how the organization supports the movement and in many cases, this has actually come with some financial donation, like $1,000,000 to NAACP and/or ACLU. These are fantastic gestures. However, they often feel empty. This twitter video really highlights why.

Another reason these gestures feel less than sincere is that the businesses that are coming out and saying these things, often have significant contracts with law enforcement, the Border Patrol, FBI, or national intelligence organizations. For example, Amazon has put out comments around supporting BLM. However, their Ring subsidiary has contracts with at least 400 police organizations nationwide. In fact, they were talking about increasing this and adding facial recognition to the recordings as recently as January.

Furthermore, many companies provide discounts and negotiated rates with local government employees. This, of course, includes police forces. Apple is an example that has Federal, State, and Local Government discounts. We shouldn’t find this surprising, as these organizations have massive buying power together. Companies like Intel also get discounts from the Apple store. However, if Apple is serious about more than just Diversity and Inclusion, Apple should drop discounts for cities and states with high numbers of police brutality cases.

For organizations that really want to make a difference where Black Lives Matter is more than just a hashtag to jump on to show “solidarity,” the ultimate expression of this is through divestment of support for the police. Hold police organizations accountable by removing special treatment. Hold police accountable by cancelling contracts for cloud storage. Hold police accountable by eliminated contracts for facial recognition. Hold police accountable by cancelling IT modernization projects. Hold police accountable by cancelling consulting contracts.

Collectively, define the requirements for restarting engagement. These demands include reduction of police brutalities (ideally as close to zero as possible), elimination of Qualified Immunity (or significant reduction), prosecution of police officers for excessive force, including murder, restructuring of police union contracts to prevent bad cops from being rehired, reintroduction of community policing efforts, introduction of civilian management boards.

These are some ideas provided by the BLM community. I’m ultimately not the right person to be dictating these requirements. Companies that are claiming solidarity should work with Black community leaders to identify the criteria for working with police departments again. Any other than true solidarity through divestment is just more words. Words that may be true, but without action, those words are meaningless. Without forcing the police departments to make change through dropping support, nothing will change. By enabling infrastructure, you’re enabling police brutality.

Below are some more ideas from Killer Mike:

White Americans Need to Understand What White Supremacy Means

I’ve been struggling with what to do in regard to the George Floyd protests, because I’m immunocompromised and can’t physically get involved. How to think about the protests. How to talk about these topics with my friends, mostly white. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. Something that I plan to write about in my next book (I’m in the process of finishing up a fantasy book and started the sequel). However, for me to do that effectively, I think it’s important for me and for other white Americans to understand American history from a different context.

First of all, we have to acknowledge that most of our education has come from a very white perspective. Furthermore, that perspective has been sanitized by the state you grew up in. Sure, the books might be written for multiple states and now has more federal oversight with Common Core, but that just means that it’s been sanitized even more. That you’re less likely to have views critical to US history presented in high school. It’s why College history courses will seem so shockingly radical to a lot of people, because historians are expected to present multiple views to help build critical thinking in the next generation of historians.

So, we, white Americans, need to do the hard work of educating ourselves. If we want to meaningfully add to the conversation or really understand what we should do, we need to take a hard look at what it means to be a White American. We need to understand what it means when African American thinkers talk about White Supremacy. We need to talk about how we benefit from the US’s power structure.

This morning I was watching a video on fictional and Fantasy writing world building. The video referenced a paper by Dr. Abraham V. Thomas, called “Is there a Caste System in India?” the author compared the US and India and argued that both India and the US have Caste systems. Caste systems, if you aren’t aware, are a “philosophical” or “morally” driven hierarchy to society. That there’s a reason why one group of people should be on the top of society while others should be beneath them. In some cases, like in India’s historic Caste system, this means there “Untouchables” which are only good for cleaning sewage (and a few other tasks). In the US, the historic philosophy is one of superiority of the White Race over the Black Race. Which was the philosophical underpinning for slavery.

I think this is an important way of framing how you think about these race discussions. If you read a tweet that talks about how white Americans benefit from White Supremacy, this is what they are saying. You’re in the top Caste because you are White. You may not literally be a White Supremacist, but you are benefiting from the history of White Supremacy in this country.

This was a hard thing for me to understand. Because I would read tweets by activists like Bree Newsome it’d be difficult to square who I thought I was and how I’ve worked to get where I am with what she was saying. I’d get upset. “I’d say, I’m not that person. I didn’t benefit from that! I hate it!” However, before engaging, I remembered a tweet I saw from a Physicist and Historian of Race in Science Technology and Mathematics, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein who begged that White people need to listen before talking. So, I’ve really focused on listening to what women like Chanda and Bree are saying rather than engaging.

Through listening, I’ve really learned that I was too ignorant to have a meaningful engagement with either of them over Twitter. That they and other activists like @Negrosubversive (I don’t know his name) are speaking of their lived experience and how they are experiencing the world. Simply because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean that I have the right to negate it because i don’t think their experiences directly apply to my life.

When people are asking about, how should I talk to my kids about what’s happening right now? Well, I think the first step is to get more educated. Follow on Twitter activists. Read books written by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) historians. Read literature. Learn the context so you can inform your kid correctly.

After reading portions of the 1619 Project, which does have some flaws (according to some Historians), I went on to read An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, I recently ordered Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and White Rage By Carol Anderson. When they come in, I’ll write book reviews about them.

It’s our responsibility to get educated so we can help break down our system so we can have a more Just and equitable society. Will it be painful for white America? Yes. Will we be better for it? Yes. So, start by getting educated. Learn and Listen. Only then, can we really engage.

Book Review: Managing the Unmanageable

Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and TeamsManaging the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams by Mickey W. Mantle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are new to managing a team this is a must read for you. While the book is intended for managers of programmers (developers, software engineers, etc…) I believe this book applies to just about any sort of creative. Obviously, some sections will be less applicable to architects like the agile sections, but in general, creatives are creatives. The authors, to some extent, recognize this by continually comparing software developers to musicians. Arguing, in fact, that the best programmers are typically fantastic musicians. There’s a similarity in the way the brain works between musicians and developers. I think this applies to other artists as well, especially ones that under went rigorous training to be an artist. There are processes you need to follow to enact your vision.

Anyway, the book itself offers very candid advice on everything hiring, firing, building local and remote teams, coaching, rewarding, and having fun.

The authors argue that hiring is the most important job of any manager. I think this is true from my experience interviewing people and managing people. Whenever you hire someone the work environment shifts. So you need to make sure that whatever change the person brings is a net positive for the team. To ensure that you get the right combination of fit and skill you must have a rigorous process for finding potential candidates, screening candidates, and interviewing candidates. If you do not you will pay for it later by losing your best people or being required to fire that hire in the future for lack of performance.

All this and templates are laid out in the book. The tools and rules of thumb are fantastic for first time managers and managers that have struggled to hire the right team.

The authors argue the most important functions of a manager are Hiring/Firing, Coaching, Developing individuals and teams. I think this is right. The manager should be technical enough to help with the team as needed, but shouldn’t be expected to roll up their sleeves too much. Their skill is more important in investigating logical approaches than the specifics of coding. However, there are a lot of people that believe their manager should be able to do their job. Which i think has a lot of merit.

This book also has some great ideas of how to convert traditional managers into agile managers. Ironically, if you follow their advice through most of the book, you’ll be well positioned to be an excelled agile manager positions to remove impediments.

I highly recommend this book for any one managing programmers, engineers, or creatives in general.

View all my reviews

Disaster Reveals Values

During the past few weeks, we’ve had the unfortunate chance to strip back our society and see our society’s values. We can see the conflicts between what we know we need to do, what people are willing to do, and what people in society expect. As a protective measure many governments have force people to stay home. This creates massive conflicts between what we need to do and what society demands of us. For example, I saw a twitter thread discussing the tension between watching children and working. Our government is expecting that people are 100% homeschooling their children while the kids are at home. However, almost all those people also have to continue working. In the case of one of my friends, both he and his wife have to work while trying to figure out how to entertain their toddler. In the case of the twitter thread, someone responded saying “My boss emailed me to make sure I was working, because they heard my kid on a call.” This represents the values of the people in charge of most of our lives.

Our President represents some of the worst of this. He’s pushing to have $150 Billion slush fund of bailout money for whatever he wants. Given that he plans to bailout Las Vegas, where he has a hotel, we can conclude it’s likely that he’ll bail himself out as much as he can. With the fed lowering rates down to 0% it’s likely going to be helping his bottom line as he is well known to have mountains of debt.

Furthermore, at least 4 US Senators have been identified as selling off stock when they were briefed the scope of the coronavirus, in late January. However, none of them clearly told the public the risks and most of them were publicly support Trump’s position. One of them sold off about $1.5 million in stock and invested in teleconference companies.

On the other hand, Bernie converted his presidential fundraising platform into raising money for people suffering under the coronavirus and raised over $2 Million in just a few days. We should require those US Senators to donate their ill gotten gains to charity and throw them in prison. Millions of people have been impacted by the sharp sell-off of the stock market but our government leaders are profiting off the chaos.

While we’re going through all these changes, we need to seriously look at what we value. What sort of people we want in leadership. How we want companies to manage their employees, how we want companies to manage their profits, especially if it leads them to be vulnerable to shocks to the system. It’s been well reported that airlines have spent 96% of their profits on stock by backs. Over the past three years one airline made more than $50 billion in profits but spent most of it on buy backs. The organization didn’t invest in its people. Didn’t save money to plan for a downturn. Didn’t put itself in a position to survive crisis. Instead, the company is asking for a bailout. Private profits and public loss.

To combat this, we need to ensure that these companies that have had to ask for money more than once (This is the second time in 20 years – 9/11 and all). Large companies should be prevented to buy back stocks. Instead, the companies should use that money to reinvest in their business, keep cash on hand for crises, and to lower prices to increase sales. If one of the draws of your brand is scarcity as a luxury item, like an Apple, then buying companies or investing in other technologies is a very valid use of the money. For airlines, getting rid of fees that your customers hate, is a pretty easy way to lower profits that you clearly don’t know how to responsibly handle.

Overall, we need to decide what values we want enforced coming out of this crisis. We don’t know what’s going to happen or how long this is going to last. The only thing we can really control is who we are and whose values come out on top. Maybe we’ve let the current values reign supreme for too long and we need to have a serious change in how we treat other people.