By Berit Anderson


FiRe is back! Our Future in Review conference will return, live, at the Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes, CA, November 6-9. Register now and get one of the first 50 tickets for just $3,900 - a discount of $2,000.



Why Read: One of the world's largest social-media companies is about to be forced out of business in the US. Find out why it's time to future-proof your portfolio, your business, and your children's emotional health against the end of TikTok.

A few months ago, I sat next to a young woman on a flight from LAX to Seattle. She had an expensive but casual sense of style, very white teeth, blonde hair, and clear intellect and confidence, and she spent most of the flight tip-tapping away on what was clearly business work. It's not super often that I meet other women near my age traveling alone for business, so I asked her what she does.

"TikTok," she said. "I recruit and cultivate influencers." She told me this with what seemed like great pride, and I, consequently, tried very hard to feign admiration.

My honest reaction would have been: "Oh! Are you not worried that the US government will shut down the Chinese information-warfare network you work for?"

Or: "Have you thought critically about the fact that your company's business model is based around teaching young Americans to mindlessly imitate one another while destroying their ability to focus on anything for longer than 30 seconds?" 

But I held my tongue. She was from Oregon, working remotely and trying to negotiate an ongoing remote arrangement at what she said was her dream job. I didn't have the heart to tell her that her dream job would one day be revealed to have been part of an advanced Chinese influence operation.

I have always believed that the US would eventually figure out the Trojan horse that is TikTok - if not before, then after it had been effectively used to undermine American democracy. But recent events make me increasingly sure that an overarching federal response is likely in the next few months.

Recently surfaced intelligence reports about Chinese interference in Canadian elections - combined with an escalation in tensions between Russia, China, and the US - suggest that TikTok, in its current ownership structure and iteration, is doomed.

Prediction: The US will ban ByteDance from US mobile platforms and/or financial transactions, neutering TikTok as a potential avenue for Chinese influence operations.


A Sudden Acceleration of CRINK Aggression

Why is this suddenly on the horizon?

While the Western world has been on alert about TikTok for quite some time, there has been a sudden acceleration of aggressive behavior from China and Russia in the last few weeks that removes all possibility for delusion about the lengths China will go to to upend what it sees as American supremacy.

Specifically, not many folks outside of intelligence communities seem to have really understood the extent to which an international military action by Russia must be considered part of China's overall strategy - and vice versa.

That's in spite of the two countries publicly announcing exactly that at the kickoff of the last Olympic Games - the biggest, gaudiest, most corrupt Western symbol they could find. US politicians launch new policy initiatives on CNN or at the Aspen Ideas Festival. President Xi Jinping secured a hosting gig at the Olympic Games.

February 4, 2022: "Friendship between the two States has no limits, there are no 'forbidden' areas of cooperation, strengthening of bilateral strategic cooperation is neither aimed against third countries nor affected by the changing international environment and circumstantial changes in third countries."

- Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China on their international partnership, released on the eve of the 2022 Olympic Games

And yet, even today, American media continues its hand-wringing about why China won't publicly denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We all know why, Bob. They're on the same team, playing different parts in a complicated global strategy. You can drop that bone now.

As SNS readers know, this story goes even further. China and Russia are aided in their international efforts by Iran and North Korea (which we collectively call CRINK), all of which supply one another with weapons, intel, energy, and resources in a multi-part alliance to undermine public perceptions of Western democracy and expand their respective authoritarian powers globally. Mark Anderson and I have covered this many times in the Future in Review podcast, so I won't go into it here.

What matters is that, taken together, the actions of China and Russia over the last few weeks represent a clear acceleration of aggression toward the US and the West. And Vlad - for all his faults - does not make idle threats. If he says he's going to do something, he generally does it. Enter his comments on the day of the invasion of Ukraine:

February 24, 2022: I would now like to say something very important for those who may be tempted to interfere in these developments from the outside. No matter who tries to stand in our way or all the more so create threats for our country and our people, they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history. No matter how the events unfold, we are ready.

-Vladimir Putin in a televised address upon the invasion of Ukraine

As we all know, the Western world has indeed flaunted Putin's threat, and President Biden continues to highlight widespread Western military support for Ukraine. For example:

January 25, 2023: "Together with our Allies and partners, we've sent more than 3,000 armored vehicles, more than . . . [800] artillery systems, more than 2 million rounds of artillery ammunition, and more than 50 advanced multi-launch rocket systems, anti-ship and air defense systems, all to help . . . [Ukraine counter] brutal aggression that is happening because of Russia."

- Joe Biden, a few weeks before his last-minute visit to Kyiv to reiterate US support for Ukraine

So ... it's actually pretty predictable that Putin would be raring at the bit to make good on his threats.

That Chinese spy balloon? The six Russian fighter jets intercepted near Alaska last week?

In the cybersecurity world, that's known as penetration testing.

How far into the chicken coop can the fox make it before it gets caught?

Pretty far, it turns out. Especially when you have allies like North Korea, the  nuclear machinations of which the rest of the world hasn't take seriously. And you have veto power over the UN Security Council as permanent members.

As UPI reported: "North Korea fired a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile on Saturday, in what [US ambassador to the UN] Greenfield-Thomas said was the country's ninth ICBM test since the beginning of last year. Japanese officials said the missile landed in the waters of its exclusive economic zone and had the capacity to reach the entire United States."

China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, blocked a motion to sanction North Korea for its weapons testing at a meeting on Monday.

With these events in the foreground, Biden decided to finalize his Kyiv visit, which, as he must have known it would, has fanned the flames of Putin's legendary temper. On Tuesday, Putin announced Russia's plan to "suspend its participation" in the New START nuclear treaty:

February 21, 2023: "They want to deal us a strategic defeat and are meddling with our nuclear facilities. In this context, I have to declare today that Russia is suspending its participation in the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Arms."

Those of you who have been following the Russia-China-US arms race over the last few weeks (and really, who isn't concerned by a sudden increase in the possibility of a nuclear strike?) probably haven't been putting an undue amount of thought into TikTok. And I don't blame you for that.

Admittedly, it's hard to concentrate on social networks when there are ICBMs afoot and the UN Security Council has been neutered by a pair of authoritarian regimes already actively invading Northern Europe. 

So why TikTok? Why now?

Canada is the linchpin. 


Canada Has a Trudeau Problem

Revelations about interference by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Canada's last federal election emerged from Canadian intelligence this week, making clear that Russia is not the only member of the CRINK axis running the election interference playbook - and that China is much more strategic, subtle, and effective in its efforts than Russia. As described by the Globe and Mail:

CSIS also explained how Chinese diplomats conduct foreign interference operations in support of political candidates and elected officials. Tactics include undeclared cash donations to political campaigns or having business owners hire international Chinese students and "assign them to volunteer in electoral campaigns on a full-time basis."

Sympathetic donors are also encouraged to provide campaign contributions to candidates favoured by China - donations for which they receive a tax credit from the federal government. Then, the CSIS report from Dec. 20, 2021 says, political campaigns quietly, and illegally, return part of the contribution - "the difference between the original donation and the government's refund" - back to the donors.

A key part of their interference operation is to influence vulnerable Chinese immigrants in Canada. The intelligence reports quote an unnamed Chinese consulate official as saying it's "easy to influence Chinese immigrants to agree with the PRC's stance."

China wants to build acceptance abroad for its claims on Taiwan, a self-ruled island that it considers a breakaway province and still reserves the right to annex by force. And it seeks to play down its conduct in Xinjiang, where the office of former UN Human Rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet last year said China has committed "serious human-rights violations" in the region, which may amount to crimes against humanity.

The Globe and Mail has provided excellent ongoing reporting not just on the details of the intelligence itself, and the CCP's strategy, but also on the fact that PM Trudeau, whose party the CCP supported in that election, continues to deny the impact of this interference.

Not a good look, Justin.

Now that the lengths to which China will go to influence elections in the US's closest neighbor is clear, the US has the ammo it needs to justify immediate action to prevent such interference in the 2024 election.

In fact, this revelation - combined with the acceleration of aggression by China and Russia toward the United States - gives the US no other choice. It must act aggressively to avoid a similar fate. 


The US Has a ByteDance Problem

Many of you have heard about the unofficial Chinese police stations popping up around the world, including in US cities, to influence and control the actions and behavior of Chinese nationals. Such stations exactly fit the needs of a state with plans to repeat Canadian influence and funding efforts in the US.

What's more, ByteDance - TikTok's Chinese parent company - is now the fourth-largest internet company in spending on US lobbying.

ByteDance [. . .] has dramatically upped its U.S. lobbying effort since 2020 as U.S.-China relations continue to sour and is now the fourth-largest Internet company in spending on federal lobbying as of last year, according to newly released data.

Publicly available information collected by OpenSecrets, a Washington nonprofit that tracks campaign finance and lobbying data, shows that ByteDance and its subsidiaries, including TikTok, the wildly popular short video app, have spent more than $13 million on U.S. lobbying since 2020. In 2022 alone, Fox News reported, the companies spent $5.4 million on lobbying.

Woops. How did that happen?

Well, to be specific, ByteDance and TikTok hired a bunch of former US politicians and officials on both sides of the aisle - one may surmise at exuberant sums - to give the appearance of non-foreign interference. This strategy also has the advantage of making current politicians who might be, say, "uncomfortable" taking money from a Chinese foreign national working for ByteDance feel like their acceptance of foreign lobbying is basically US politics as usual.

I'm going to name names here, because: a) they're already public; and b) these people deserve to be publicly called out for their lack of professional ethics. As described by VOA:

The lobbyists hired by ByteDance include former U.S. senators Trent Lott and John Breaux; David Urban, a former senior adviser to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign who was also a former chief of staff for the late Senator Arlen Specter; Layth Elhassani, special assistant to President Barack Obama in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs; and Samantha Clark, former deputy staff director of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

In November, TikTok hired Jamal Brown, a deputy press secretary at the Pentagon who was national press secretary for Joe Biden's presidential campaign, to manage policy communications for the Americas, with a focus on the U.S., according to Politico.

Can you imagine the Chinese Communist Party allowing any American company that level of influence over the actions and behavior of its leaders? Much less one financially backed by the US government? It just wouldn't happen.


The Problem with Project Texas

As Vox reported recently, TikTok has been working hard to alleviate the possibility of a ban, spending more than a billion dollars on an initiative called Project Texas to convince the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US that its product isn't a national security threat:

In its effort to convince regulators that its app is walled off from China and ByteDance, TikTok partnered with Texas-based company Oracle, which is hosting US user data on and running traffic through its cloud infrastructure as well as reviewing the source code for TikTok's recommendation algorithm and content moderation tools. Access to data and other parts of TikTok will be strictly limited to only essential personnel, and both Oracle and the US government will have some oversight.

This includes a new division called US Data Security, which was established last July. According to people present at the January briefing from TikTok in Washington that explained the unit, USDS will have 2,500 employees, which is reportedly half of TikTok's US workers. It houses the people and processes that access US user data and moderate content shown to US users. Any USDS employee has to meet certain requirements set by the US government to avoid the possibility that they can or will be unduly influenced by the Chinese government - for example, they must be a US citizen or have a green card. The USDS reports to a board of directors that CFIUS will vet and approve. And that board then reports to CFIUS, not TikTok or ByteDance.

But there are major loopholes with this proposal. The Black Box Problem, for one. In other words, not even the engineers at social-media companies fully understand why algorithms and neural nets make specific decisions. So algorithmic oversight is an impossibility.

Second, it would be nearly impossible to ensure that there is no backdoor into TikTok's technology and business operations. And, as the Canadian election interference and ByteDance lobbyists have shown, neither a green card nor citizenship guarantees freedom from foreign influence.

Though Project Texas is focused on data access and content oversight, it doesn't specifically mention advertising oversight or access. And in the world of internet commerce, content and advertising are two different categories.

But most important: while much has been made of the CCP's history of accessing data on TikTok users, I do not believe that an always-on camera and microphone in the bedroom of every American teenager is TikTok's greatest threat to US elections.

TikTok is an instrument of influence, not just of surveillance.


The Power of Youth Culture

TikTok is a tool with immense power to exert influence and control over American culture - especially US youth culture. And Xi understands the importance of shaping youth culture better than most.

Here's how he thinks about shaping the youth of China, as stated earlier this month in a speech to top CCP leadership:

It is necessary to strengthen capacity improvement, and allow leading cadres, especially young cadres, to undergo rigorous ideological refinement, political experience, practical training, and professional training, so that they can weather the wind and rain, see the world, strengthen their muscles, and grow their talents in complex and severe struggles.

Pay attention to inspecting and identifying cadres in severe and complex struggles, support and encourage cadres who are good at fighting, daring to take responsibility, and daring to grasp and manage well without fear of offending others.

What is the importance of youth culture in the US? Oh, right. Only the difference between winning and losing an election. In the 2022 midterms, the youth vote was the deciding factor between the projected "red wave" and the actual election outcomes.

As Brookings reported:

Among the youngest Americans, Democrats have held an advantage in votes for House of Representatives candidates in every midterm or presidential election since the late 1990s. Yet in 2022, the 18- to 29-year-old age group (made up of Gen Z and the youngest millennials) showed an even more pronounced shift toward Democrats. It is one of the few demographic groups to show a higher D-R margin in the nationwide House vote than for the 2020 presidential election (D-R value of 28 in 2022, compared to 24 in 2020). This is amplified by the fact that this age group - as in the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election -registered a rise in turnout compared to pre-2018 elections, according to a Tufts University analysis.

If you were going to design a strategy to do precisely the opposite of what Xi described above to young people in the US - to instead undermine the ability of "young cadres" to rigorously refine their ideologies, develop political experience, receive professional training, and manage well without fear of offending others - it might look exactly like TikTok.

In other words, a social network that addicts its users to endless scrolling, forces them to interact only in short videos that limit critical thinking on key issues, to mimic their peers, to compete for Likes, to think primarily in binaries rather than understanding the nuances of varying viewpoints, and to live in fear of saying the wrong thing, thereby inciting the wrath of internet mobs.

But even if we assume no ill intent in its design, the last 10 years have taught us all too well the power of social media and advertising to increase political polarity, influence specific blocs of Americans, and shape voter turnout.

If all that could happen at Facebook - a US-based company - you would be a damn fool not to see the potential for a similar performance at TikTok.

The US cannot afford to leave a window open for CCP election interference in 2024. That means TikTok and ByteDance must go.

Bipartisan US congressional support is already there. The new revelations about China's interference in Canada's elections and increased military aggression from China and Russia are nails in the coffin.

I believe the end of TikTok and ByteDance in America is nigh. I recommend that you reevaluate your loyalty to any related securities or dependencies you may hold.

America's youth will be better off for it.


Your comments are always welcome.


Berit Anderson

Email sent to SNS may be reprinted, unless you indicate that it is not to be.


We encourage you to forward your favorite issues of SNS to a friend(s) or colleague(s) 1 time per person, provided that you cc: and that sharing does not result in the publication of the Global Report or its contents in any form except as provided in the SNS Terms of Service (linked below).

To arrange for a speech or consultation by Mark Anderson on subjects in technology and economics, or to schedule a strategic review of your company, email

For inquiries about Partnership or Sponsorship Opportunities and/or SNS Events, please contact Berit Anderson, SNS COO, at

SNS Terms of Service




Register for FiRe



FiRe Events

FiRe HQ Community - Suspended

Thought Leader News



Orca Relief







Copyright 2023 Strategic News Service LLC

"Strategic News Service," "SNS," "Future in Review," "FiRe," "INVNT/IP," and "SNS Project Inkwell" are all registered service marks of Strategic News Service LLC.

ISSN 1093-8494