Emil Guillermo: The TikTok ban and the dissing of Ke Huy Quan

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I bought something from a Chinese company on social media recently. When I got the product, it didn’t work.

I panicked, then relaxed because I bought it through an American tech giant, which gives me recourse.

Going to the product company directly was a nightmare in communication. Most of the email was in Chinese, a language I don’t speak.

I mention this because the next big battle in Congress will be about TikTok.

Many of you use it. I am amused by the wacky recipes and zany dances. Others, like my friend Allison Collins, report and opine on the anti-DEI movement.

Some say a “ban” would be a threat to free speech. But the current bill moving to the Senate isn’t really a ban; it’s more like a new requirement on how foreign governments can do business with U.S. residents.

Right now, using TikTok is like taking a ride on a Chinese weather balloon. Great views, great fun. Until you realize it’s an espionage tool and you’re being taken for a ride literally and figuratively.

National security is serious business and people who are pro-TikTok are blind to the reality that ByteDance, TT’s parent company, is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party. The party can demand that ByteDance dance on command.

If China wants something like your latest hip hop moves, seems innocent enough. But it wants more than that. How about all your data, plus exposing you to propaganda as per the algorithm to undermine elections and the general well-being of our democracy?

Hyperbole? Not when you know how powerful social media and algorithms are when it comes to influencing human behavior.

Having TikTok on your phone is better than a spy balloon over America.

China knows it. Most in Congress know it. But most of the estimated 170 million users of TikTok in America don’t seem to get it yet. But they should.

“I want my TikTok” shouldn’t be a battle cry.

Some may point to Trump for their pro-TikTok ways. Trump flipped on the issue from being against it to being TikTok OK. That could be because a recent major donor to his campaign is connected to TikTok. Just remember: Trump is the man who says immigrants poison America’s blood. He’s the guy who boldly sells out our allies to Putin as the Russian annihilation of Ukraine picks up. He’s the guy so bankrupt morally and financially he’s capable of doing anything that serves him. Not you.

You want to follow that?

So think national security. Not free speech.

Don’t be a sucker for an addictive app.

The U.S. is simply requiring that a U.S. company own TikTok and provide a buffer much like the U.S. tech intermediary from which I purchased that Chinese gizmo that didn’t work.

A U.S. owner of TikTok gives American users protection and some recourse from China. Consider that the bill in the House had bipartisan approval in a body that can't agree on the really hard things like immigration, Israel, and Ukraine.

But on TikTok, there's bipartisan agreement and only a few are hiding behind "free speech."

Leaving the situation "as is" puts a spy balloon in every mobile phone in America.


Don’t think I’m a Luddite when it comes to this stuff. I’m not anti-social media. I just have more concerns than an average 18-year-old.

Beyond national security, the TikTok matter shows how social media’s importance has grown so much since your first tweet to where traditional media values—the verification of the truth established in the major institutions in print and broadcast— have eroded to nothing.

Editors are replaced by algorithms. Commerce is the dominant purpose. Not the “public interest.”

These days, when most people under age 25 rely on TikTok for news, information is shared as if in a game of telephone. Fact and opinion merge, and once the news gets to all the end users, the truth is not only unverified, it’s unrecognizable. All that survives is the accompanying ads, which reach their targeted demographic.

The process seems to be to the liking of American consumers, most of whom now feel entitled to their own set of facts.

What is truth and what is factual too often isn’t even debated anymore. We accept what we see on the screen and when there are differences, we simply retreat from each other with our separate beliefs.

Common ground? We agree to disagree, which is fine, but too often it ends in a permanent estrangement that is bad for all of us in a democracy.

What’s the way out of this mess?Consume more news from different sources. We can’t trust or rely on one source. In this day and age, there is no one source. Even the Bible has an Old and a New Testament. Read widely to be best informed.


There is one good thing about social media that is shown every day.It excels in the sharing of observable fact in real time. When I first used Twitter, one of the great things was finding out about news stories like a fire or a shooting or an earthquake immediately. It beat traditional sources by hours.

Of course, things needed to be verified further. But social media acted as an early detection system.

Two weeks ago, when the Oscars were broadcast, Ke Huy Quan, winner in the Best Supporting Actor category a year ago for “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” was presenting the Oscar to this year’s winner, Robert Downey Jr.

I saw it on television and was surprised at how Downey simply ignored Quan like he wasn’t there.

You can forgive Downey all you want. But from an AAPI vantage point, it sure looked like a micro-aggression.

In the ceremonial passing of the Oscar, the new winner disses the old.

That doesn’t sound right.

But we saw it and so did others on social media.

All Asian Americans know this feeling of Ke Huy Quan.

We’ve felt it. It’s real.

We “make it,” are “celebrated,” and then in a moment, suddenly we disappear.

We are handing the Oscar to the winner. No one sees you, they just see

Downey. Sure, he won, we didn’t, but he doesn’t see you. No one sees you. Again.

But every Asian American saw Ke Huy get dissed.

It blew up on twitter.

And then it all seemed to silence a bit when both Downey and Quan were seen hugging in a photo later.

Or maybe Downey’s PR person caught wind of it and told the client to give the appearance of making nice to Quan.

Everyone has cover now in the “after.”

But everyone saw the “before.” Social media compounded it. In the past, Asians wouldn’t speak out or say a thing.

Now there’s an outlet. That’s social media’s purpose in real time.

You want to see what a micro-aggression looks like as witnessed by 19.5 million people who watched the 96th Academy awards?

Social media brought it into focus. ICYMI.

Social media at times is the enemy, at times it lets us see and comment like we never have before.

When the power is in our hands, great. It’s not so great when in the hands of an adversary nation.

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NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on