First They Came

Warning: Off the cuff rant post incoming, do not expect quality.

I had a sinking feeling that when the TikTok ban bill was ramrodded through our legislative system that this wouldn’t be the end, and the government would thirst for more, because their thirst is never, ever sated. The TikTok ban bill was dubious at best (and a naked, xenophobia-fueled power grab at worst), with congressmen and senators normally friendly toward the platform voting against it because “we’ve seen information that would make you weep” whilst, of course, conveniently never disclosing that information to us. Further, TikTok’s stunt to tap into its user base to try and save itself didn’t go well, because of course our legislators act like out-of-touch boomers at best and are completely bought at worst.

I want to talk about that stunt, though, because as an autistic? I’ve been on the wrong side of this type of play. Your parents/authority figures in your life punish you by taking away something that you’ve modeled your routine around. Normal people might just shrug and move on, but autistics? Oh no, we flip the fuck out whenever anything something destroys our calm like this. And those of us who grew up as children of Boomers probably remember well what the response to us panicking was: Oh, you’re proving that you’re probably better off without this thing! Look at how much control it has over you! And that’s if you were lucky. The unlucky among us? We got punished even harder. The goal was to push us to that point where we’ve gone so far past our limits that the whole mental stack has ceased functioning and we’ve become catatonic.

That’s what happened here. Faced with the potential for a ban, TikTok did what it has every right to do: It informed its users that hey, the US government is considering legislation that would affect the platform you are currently using, and if you like it, maybe consider giving your representatives a call or an email. As you’d no doubt expect, throngs of people did exactly this, and rather than seeing this for what it is (we’re introducing legislation that is going to screw over a LOT of people for no real good reason), they took it the “Boomer utterly failing their autistic child” way: All these people are flipping out because they’re indoctrinated by the CCP! All the more reason for us to ban it! To hell with the fact that this is going to cost people their livelihoods!

(Before anyone points it out: Yes, the ban bill wasn’t actually a ban bill, it only sought to force ByteDance to divest TikTok. However, given that this is such a high demand that ByteDance would never agree to, it might as well be a ban.)

Now, I get it. TikTok isn’t the best social media. Hell, social media as a whole is just a set of mixed tradeoffs with the user having to decide which ones work for them. If you want to talk election misinformation and influence, Meta arguably has dirtier hands in that regard that they’re trying so hard to wash by pointing at TikTok and saying “SEE?! CHINA BAD!” If the government wanted to do this all the right way, a set of far-reaching privacy laws would be enacted that would affect all social media doing business in the US. TikTok, Meta, Google, everyone. But no. The government instead decided to play the protectionist/xenophobia card, and went after TikTok whilst completely ignoring Meta and Google committing privacy snafus and boosting misinformation on the daily.

(And to make matters worse, the bill is so broad that it gives the government carte blanche to just…ban anything it deems “adversarial software from foreign countries”. This isn’t just TikTok.)

As I said in the first bit, I had a feeling that the government wouldn’t be satisfied with attempting to send TikTok to the shadow realm. The government’s thirst for bullshit is never sated. As expected, they’re striking again. This time, they’re going after “CCP drones”, or DJI.

Just perusing the internet on this (I don’t operate drones nor do I know anyone who does), this just feels like yet another naked power grab fueled by xenophobia and protectionism. The line of thinking is because DJI is based in Shenzhen, the CCP could use them to spy on US citizens and present a foreign threat. Therefore, all DJI product must be banned, damn the consequences! And damn all the people that bought into DJI! There’s also the ulterior motive of protecting US-based drone manufacturers from being pushed out by cheaper Chinese competitors.

It’s been suggested that Skydio (one such US drone manufacturer) is lobbying to push this through too, and while yes, it would be nice to maybe have some domestic options for purchasing drones, the issue here is that domestically-manufactured drones are insanely expensive. Hell, Skydio won’t even sell to end users anymore, they’ve completely left the consumer business and have done that b2b thing where you have to talk with their reps to get anything resembling pricing. And at least perusing drone forums and reddit, there seems to be a near unanimous opinion that Skydio is worse and more expensive.

(There’s actually a link here: one of the two congresspersons pushing for this ban is Elise Stefanik, who had a National Security Advisor named Joe Bartlett. Joe now works for–you guessed it–Skydio, as the Director of Federal Policy. Extremely suspicious.)

I guess if lobbying to have your competition banned is cheaper than investing in making your product better and/or more affordable, you’re going to go that route. It’s playing dirty, though, and ultimately the ones who lose are you and me.

The whole “CCP is spying on us, omgz!” reeks of the same energy that Richard Blumenthal exudes when he tries to ram through trash like KOSA whilst screaming “think of the children!” It’s a convenient excuse that both hides the real reason why they’re pushing this garbage onto us, and gives a convenient counterpoint to beat down opposing viewpoints with. “Oh, you must be a CCP shill then, huh?”

Or with KOSA: “Why do you hate chidren?” or “You must like doing things with children, huh?” to people calling the bill exactly what it is.

It’s also just a convenient talking point that most people will give the benefit of the doubt to without bothering to peek behind the veneer. Because who would? “Protecting us from foreign adversaries? They clearly have our best interests at heart!”

The government knew full well what it did with TikTok. It’s dominated by younger Gen Z and Gen Alpha. First they came for it, and the older among us (for the most part) did not speak out, because we either didn’t care about TikTok, or thought it was too much brain rot and it should die anyway. This was a mistake, because again, they’re not going to stop there.

Then they came for DJI. And the second part will probably be–though I hope it isn’t–that we did not speak out, because we are not drone pilots.

DJI being banned won’t be enough. The government will very much move on to a new target, emboldened by their success with the TikTok ban bill and the DJI ban bill. Which is why we need to speak out and stop this shit now. Not one goddamn step further.

If you want to stop the CCP from hoovering up a bunch of data? Great! Enact stringent privacy laws that apply to all companies doing business in the US. Stop this bullshit of targeting foreign businesses whilst letting companies like Meta get a free pass on their hubris on the basis of “well, they’re American! That makes it okay!”

The thinly-veiled protectionist/xenophobic bullshit is getting exhausting.