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With US Takeover Deadline Looming, Reports Suggest China Would Prefer to See TikTok Shut Down



With the US Government’s deadline for the sell-off of TikTok looming, a new report has suggested that the Chinese Government would actually prefer to see the app shut down, as opposed to being sold into US ownership.

The TikTok negotiations, in which Microsoft is still seemingly the lead bidder, have been thrown into disarray in the last week after the Chinese Government announced new regulations which restrict the sale of technological advancements – including algorithms – within foreign trade deals.

TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has been in negotiations with Chinese and US officials as it seeks to find a way beyond the current impasse – but according to a new report from Reuters, the new Chinese regulations may actually be part of Beijing’s broader opposition to a sell-off of the app.

As per Reuters:

Chinese officials believe a forced sale would make both ByteDance and China appear weak in the face of pressure from Washington, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.”

Indeed, this has been one of the key risks in the process all along – very early on, when US President Donald Trump first announced his coming Executive Order which would force TikTok’s sale, reports suggested that Chinese officials were furious at Trump’s action, which essentially holds a Chinese company, in ByteDance, to ransom over the app. 

This element is also a risk for Microsoft, or any company bidding for the platform, with respect to its future in China, with reports also suggesting that any such deal could lead to further sanctions and punishments in retaliation for the forced sell-off, if it goes ahead. 

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But now, it may not even get to that point. If these reports are correct, then China’s ruling CCP will actually push TikTok towards a full ban in the US, rather than let the sale go through.

That is of course, unless negotiators can find another way around, and within that, one option is that TikTok could be sold off without its core algorithms. Which would essentially leave it as just a shell – the bidders would be paying, in the end, for the TikTok branding and that’s about it. 

Whether the CCP would allow even that to happen is another question, given the potential concerns over perception. And if they did, why would any company pay for just the basic app, with no tech? Surely TikTok without its systems is not TikTok as we know it.

Apparently, one bidder would, with Triller still interested in buying a hollowed-out TikTok, as per reports. But the price tag, you would think, would have to be significantly lower – and then, what would you really be left with? Would TikTok, the platform, ever be the same if its core algorithms and systems were stripped away?

It’s amazing to consider that a relatively simple, short-form video app is now central to a potential new cold war, with the highest-ranking Chinese and US officials scrutinizing the particulars of any such deal.

How it eventually plays out is anyone’s guess at this stage, but the deadline, as noted, is closing in, which will bring it to a conclusion, one way or another, very soon.

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How soon exactly?

To clarify, in his original statement on the coming ban, US President Donald Trump noted that TikTok had till September 15th to be sold off to a US company, or face a ban in the US. This was before Trump had signed the official Executive Order on the process, which was eventually signed on August 6th. Within that document, it states that the sale needs to happen “beginning 45 days after the date of this order”. That actually, officially, puts the final date at September 20th, five days longer than the initial announcement.

Shortly after this, however, another EO came from the White House which gave ByteDance 90 days to divest its purchase of, the app that eventually became TikTok in the US. That order also directs ByteDance to destroy any US user data – though it’s not entirely clear how the two orders overlap. 

So, does ByteDance have till September 20th or November 12th? Honestly, it’s a little hard to tell based on the seemingly contradictory documents – but what is fairly definitive is that President Trump will be pushing for a deal within the next week.

As per President Trump on Thursday:

“We’ll either close up TikTok in this country for security reasons or it’ll be sold. I’m not extending deadlines, no, it’s September 15th – there’ll be no extension of the TikTok deadline.”

So, pretty clear, right? Crystal?

Technicalities aside, it does seem like we’ll see the next stage of the TikTok sell-off – whatever that may look like – early next week. That could result in a transfer to Microsoft, or another consortium bid. Or it could kick off a new round of international trade sanctions. 

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The stakes are indeed extremely high, and while it may seem to many that TikTok is a mostly frivolous, fun app where young people engage in the latest viral dance trends, symbolically, it could end up being a lot more.  

And yes, it could be banned outright. The blocking of TikTok in the US, as has already happened in India, remains a very real possibility at this late hour of negotiations.

It’s going to be a tense weekend of negotiations, you’d expect.

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Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers



Meta's Developing and 'Ethical Framework' for the Use of Virtual Influencers

With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.

The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.

As explained by Meta:

From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”

Some of the more well-known examples on this front are Shudu, who has more than 200k followers on Instagram, and Lil’ Miquela, who has an audience of over 3 million in the app.

At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.

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Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.

The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.

Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.

Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.

Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.

It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.

But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.

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That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.

Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?

It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.

But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.

You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.

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Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps



Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps

Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.

The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.

It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.

Meta security guide

For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.

Meta security guide

While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.

Meta security guide

There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.

It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.

Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.

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Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump



Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with relatives of slain commander Qasem Soleimani ahead of the second anniverary of his death in a US drone strike in Iraq – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Tom Brenner

Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran’s supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general’s assassination against former US president Donald Trump.

“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.

The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.

The recent video, titled “Revenge is Definite”, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.

According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.

The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.

He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.

Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.

On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.

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Trump’s supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.

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