Explaining The Timer on TikTok's Fate | Crooked Media
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March 12, 2024
What A Day
Explaining The Timer on TikTok's Fate

In This Episode

  • The House is expected to vote Wednesday on a bill that could force the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell the social media platform or face a ban on U.S. app stores. Lawmakers say TikTok is a potential national security threat. The bill has bipartisan support in the House. Tech journalist Louise Matsakis explains why banning TikTok is one of the few issues lawmakers can agree on these days.
  • And in headlines: The House Judiciary Committee grilled Special Counsel Robert Hur over his investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents, an FAA report said Boeing failed dozens of audits, and Airbnb told hosts no more indoor security cameras.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, March 13th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What a Day where last week’s televised main event might have been the state of the Union. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But tonight Juanita and I are streaming the Love Is Blind reunion.


Juanita Tolliver: One, I need these hos to actually prep and ask the right questions. And two, what was that TikTok video you sent me, Priyanka? I’m still shaking. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We are shook. We’re watching. We’re tuning in. We’re abandoning our responsibilities as the hosts of this show. So sorry if you don’t get a podcast tomorrow. [music break]


Juanita Tolliver: On today’s show, special counsel Robert Hur got grilled by both parties for his report on Biden’s handling of classified documents. Plus, Airbnb says no more security cameras indoors. Like, why were they inside in the first place? Problematic.


Priyanka Aribindi: Big yikes. But first, the House is expected to vote today on a bill that could force the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell the social media platform or risk a ban from U.S. app stores. 


Juanita Tolliver: That’s a huge deal for all the Doom scholars out there. But yesterday, lawmakers took the issue very seriously. There was a House Intelligence Committee hearing on it. So break down what happened for us? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. So the heads of the FBI, CIA, NSA, National Intelligence and Defense intelligence were all there. The background here is that TikTok is owned by a private company called ByteDance. Because ByteDance is based in China, the government there is able to exert a certain amount of control over it. Several reports over the years have said that TikTok moderators censor sensitive topics in China, such as Tiananmen Square and Tibetan independence. We’ll link to some of those stories in our show notes. But back to that meeting. FBI Director Christopher Wray warned lawmakers yesterday that it’s very possible that China, via TikTok, could censor or amplify certain topics in the U.S., making the app a potential security threat both to individuals and their data and the nation. 


[clip of FBI Director Christopher Wray] Americans need to ask themselves whether they want to give the Chinese government the ability to control access to their data, whether they want to give the Chinese government the ability to control the information they get through the recommendation algorithm, and whether they want to give the Chinese government the ability to leverage the data that the software on their devices, which allows the Chinese government to compromise their devices if they so choose to exercise. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, I feel like that message is going to need to be amplified, especially when you’re competing with Reesa Teesa’s 50 part love drama like.


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s tough. 


Juanita Tolliver: You got to get this message out there more. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, it was important that we get some more details so people can understand what is leading up to today’s vote in the House on this bill, which has a lot of bipartisan support. So earlier I was able to speak with Louise Matsakis. She is a freelance tech journalist who writes the newsletter, You May Also Like. All about tech, e-commerce and China. I started by asking her about how lawmakers on both sides were able to get on the same page about this issue, when they have so much difficulty doing that, about literally anything else. 


Louise Matsakis: I think what you’re seeing right now is the confluence of two things that are maybe the only things that Congress agrees on right now. So the first is being tough on China, right? This is an app that has a Chinese parent company. And then the other thing is this idea that social media is harmful to children, harmful to teenagers. So we’ve seen a lot of interest among lawmakers in the last like year or two about this idea that social media is poisoning kids’ brains, etc.. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Well, yesterday, Reuters reported that FBI Director Christopher Wray warned the House that China could use TikTok to influence the coming election earlier this week as well, the office of the Director of National Intelligence issued their national report on threat assessments, saying that the Chinese government has already used TikTok to push pro-China propaganda that it already tried to influence the 2022 midterm elections. So what, if anything, do we all know about what that influence has looked like at this point? 


Louise Matsakis: What we know from that report and from lots of other reporting is that, yes, the Chinese government has tried to use TikTok to influence the election to spread disinformation. However, what we know is that they’ve also used X, formerly known as Twitter, they’ve used Facebook, they’ve used YouTube, they’ve used plenty of other platforms to sort of do the same thing. And it should be noted that those efforts aren’t something that you needed like back end access to TikTok in order to do. Right. Like this is just posting stuff on the platforms in order to try and mislead people, which is something that we’ve seen, you know, dozens of countries do around the world on dozens of different platforms. I think that’s the really frustrating thing about the TikTok debate, which is that so little of the information that lawmakers claimed to have seen about the threats posed by TikTok have been made public. Right now, what we have is pretty hypothetical, right? It’s the idea that the Chinese government could use TikTok’s parent company to influence the US. But we just don’t know. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. And I mean, TikTok and ByteDance were reportedly caught almost off guard by how quickly this legislation started moving through Congress. It even prompted users last week on the app to call their lawmakers, tell them to vote no on the bill that seems to have backfired for them. Made lawmakers even more eager to get this passed. How did TikTok become so blindsided by this? It seems like this has been percolating a little while on our side here at home. 


Louise Matsakis: Yeah, I think there’s two things going on. The first one is that I think it’s fair to say that the US government is kind of been the boy who cried wolf when it comes to banning TikTok. It’s been almost four years since this effort started. And the other thing is, yeah, that notification that they sent to users encouraging people to call their lawmakers. That’s a strategy that lots of companies have used and I think in the past has been really effective. Right. Like the idea of call your representatives, tell them the things that you care about. But in this case, what lawmakers said was, see this shows how influential this app is and how the Chinese government has undue influence over American voters. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Interesting, interesting, interesting. I mean, I also want to talk about the potential political risk here for lawmakers. I mean, especially Democrats, if they do end up signing this bill into law, obviously a massively popular app, especially with young people, I don’t know if one would consider me a young person. I didn’t get that notification. Anyways, who will the people be blaming if TikTok goes away? And do you think this could backfire for these politicians who feel like this is a good idea right now? 


Louise Matsakis: First, your point about being, you know, a young person, I think you and I are probably actually like some of the most active users on TikTok. It gets this reputation as being a teen app. But data from the Pew Research Center recently showed that actually, TikTok’s user base is getting older quickly. And so we’re talking more about like millennials here, right? Like voters for sure. And I think there could be this bizarre situation almost, where now you’re seeing Trump say that he doesn’t support banning TikTok. Right. So he’s the one who started this. And if Biden ends up signing this bill, I think you could get a situation where, you know, millions of people who love TikTok or who have businesses on TikTok who earn an income from the platform could potentially be saying, hey, you know, Biden cut off my income, cut off my entertainment, maybe I’m going to vote for Trump, right? Which would be super, you know, strange and sort of ironic, given that he was the first one to bring up the idea of banning the app in the first place. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s talk about President Trump, because he said in an interview with CNBC this week that he worried specifically about this backlash from young voters. 


[clip of Donald Trump] There are a lot of young kids on TikTok who who will go crazy without it. There are a lot of uh users. There’s, you know, a lot of good and there’s a lot of bad with TikTok. But the thing I don’t like is that without TikTok, you can make Facebook bigger. And I consider Facebook to be an enemy of the people. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What do you make of what he has said on this? And, you know, if his head is in the right place with that idea of trying to be conscious of the backlash. 


Louise Matsakis: I think the reporting was that he maybe talked to a big TikTok investor who is also one of his donors. Um. I think that Trump flip flopping on an issue like this is nothing new, but it does set up a situation where perhaps he could use this as uh, you know, leverage against Biden if this does end up being put into law. I just think the question is whether he can convince his base who he, you know, riled up to be so worried about TikTok and it being controlled by the Communist Party, can he turn around and say, like, but it’s not fair for the Democrats to ban it. This is a free speech issue. I’m not really sure. But if anyone could do it, it’s definitely a candidate like him. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. We saw with the bipartisan immigration bill that Trump support in general can make or break legislation. What do we think about his opposition now? What do we think that means for the future of this bill? Do you think that will influence the Republican Party on how they will vote? 


Louise Matsakis: Well, Republicans said that they were going to move ahead and that they weren’t, you know, sort of worried about Trump’s comments. And I think that they’re motivated by hearing from so many parents who are really worried about the impact of social media on their kids. Um. So I think right now, for whatever reason, that voice is louder for a lot of lawmakers. But on the other hand, you know, their phones are ringing off the hook because they’re hearing from TikTok users. So I think the tension between those two groups of constituents is going to be something to look out for. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And, you know, before we let you leave, I have to ask about the possibilities for TikTok’s future here. You know, do we see any potential buyers lining up if ByteDance is forced to sell the platform? You know, what what do you feel like may happen here? 


Louise Matsakis: It’s always so hard to tell. I feel like I don’t think that it will be easy to sell the platform. And the number one reason for that is that Beijing basically made it impossible without permission to sell, you know, certain types of technology, including the algorithm and sort of the AI that powers TikTok. And I don’t think that XI Jinping is going to allow the sale to go through either. So what I see happening potentially is a stalemate where Beijing says you can’t sell, Biden says you have to sell, and then for six months or 180 days, it just sort of languishes. And then maybe there is, you know, perhaps an actual ban. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Big yikes. What am I going to do for my entertainment then? Louise Matsakis, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate your time. 


Louise Matsakis: Thanks for having me. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And Juanita, that was my conversation with Louise Matsakis. She is a freelance tech journalist who writes the newsletter, You May Also Like. We will link to her work in our show notes. That is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break] 




Juanita Tolliver: Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Juanita Tolliver: Special Counsel Robert Hur was a political punching bag yesterday as he testified before the GOP led House Judiciary Committee. Last month, Hur issued a report into President Biden’s handling of classified documents and described Biden as a, quote, “well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.” His testimony, along with his report, showcased that Hur was unable to justify his commentary about Biden’s memory. Democratic members of the House noted that and were upset. Here’s Representative Adam Schiff of California grilling Hur. 


[clip of Representative Adam Schiff] You could have written your report with comments about his specific recollection as to documents or a set of documents. But you chose a general pejorative reference to the president. You understood when you made that decision, did you Mr. Hur? That you would ignite a political firestorm with that language, didn’t you? 


Juanita Tolliver: I appreciate the question, because, of course he should have. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Didn’t you? 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. Meanwhile, Republicans were mad that Hur didn’t use his investigation to recommend criminal charges against Biden. Here’s Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona saying he didn’t think Hur’s report went far enough. 


[clip of Representative Andy Biggs] He had guilty knowledge. He knew and told the guy that he’s going to expose that classified material to, hey be careful. 


Juanita Tolliver: Okay? That’s ridiculous. And there’s no comparison by the actions of Donald Trump compared to President Biden. Like at all. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Zero. Night and day. 


Juanita Tolliver: The White House itself declared on Tuesday that the president was cleared in the investigation after Hur insisted that he did not exonerate Biden. It is striking that there is a transcript in this entire package of Hur interviewing President Biden, in which he does comment that Biden has a photographic memory [?]. It’s pretty wild to see, especially compared to his commentary. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Wild to turn around and then say this. 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s just so illustrative of the kind of people we’re dealing with. The Labor Department released its consumer price index report yesterday, and inflation is back up in the US. The report found that prices increased a bit in February, with the price index at 3.2%, which is up from 3.1% in January. This doesn’t mean that inflation will keep going up. Economists are still studying the impacts of the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes on the economy, and generally expect inflation to go down as the year continues. But it’s definitely something to watch as President Biden campaigns for reelection. Given that we know that rising costs are top of mind for so many voters nationwide. 


Juanita Tolliver: The Biden administration announced yesterday that it’s sending $300 million of weapons to Ukraine. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan explained that the aid package was necessary because Ukrainian troops have been forced to ration ammunition. Here he is in a press briefing. 


[clip of Jake Sullivan] When Russian troops advance and it’s guns fire. Ukraine does not have enough ammunition to fire back. That’s costing terrain. It’s costing lives. And it’s costing us the United States and the NATO alliance strategically. 


Juanita Tolliver: Sullivan added that what’s being sent over will only help hold off the Russian army for a few weeks. He said the aid package was only possible by cobbling together savings from other military contracts. A more long term solution would be for the House to pass a $60 billion aid package for Ukraine that already passed the Senate. But ensuring the safety of Ukrainians is not a priority for Republicans. House speaker Mike Johnson has refused to bring it up for a vote. And according to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, if Donald Trump is reelected, he will, quote, “Not give a penny to Ukraine either.” Orban is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s, and he just visited Trump in Florida last week. He made the comments while recapping the trip to state TV on Sunday. Multiple outlets, including NBC and the BBC, tried to follow up with Trump’s campaign about what Orban said, but they had not heard back. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, just a preview of what is to come if Donald Trump is elected. The chief of the Uvalde Police Department, Daniel Rodriguez, announced his resignation on Tuesday. That is amid renewed backlash over how his department responded to the 2022 Robb elementary school shooting, where 19 children and two teachers were killed. We told you last week that Uvalde city officials commissioned a report to investigate the actions of state and local law enforcement officials, who waited over an hour to confront the shooter. You will remember that the families of the victims were furious with the report’s so-called findings, because the author said that the police showed, quote, “immeasurable strength and levelheaded thinking, despite the fact that by all other accounts, they failed to follow protocol at nearly every single level. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Rodriguez submitted his resignation letter hours before the city council was set to meet for the first time on Tuesday since the controversial report was released. And while Rodriguez didn’t reference the shooting or the report in his letter to his department, he wrote, quote, “I take pride in the positive impact we’ve made during my tenure.” His resignation is effective April 6th. 


Juanita Tolliver: It’s another bad day for Boeing, and there’s plenty of terrible developments for the company to tell you about. First, a Federal Aviation Administration report found Boeing failed 33 out of 89 audits in the production process for the troubled 737 Max. 


Priyanka Aribindi: A lot! 


Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, it’s too many. And as if we need to remind you, the Max nine model is the one where a piece of the plane terrifyingly blew off mid-flight in January. The New York Times said yesterday that it got ahold of the FAA’s presentation, and the report gave startling insight into the lack of quality control at the company. The report added that Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems underwent 13 audits by the FAA and failed seven of them. Just to be clear, Spirit AeroSystems even though its failing these audit is not the same as Spirit Airlines, which fails customers on a regular basis. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Fails customers, but I don’t know about the audits. They might be clear on those. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. [laughing] Spirit Airlines is like, now why am I in it? Okay. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Can’t catch a break. 


Juanita Tolliver: A couple of weeks ago, the FAA said Boeing has until the end of May to come up with an action plan to address its quality control issues. Meanwhile down under, dozens were injured on a Boeing 787 operated by Latam Airlines on Monday. The plane was flying between Australia and New Zealand when it took a sudden mid-air dive. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Excuse me? 


Juanita Tolliver: The incident is under investigation. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Terrifying. 


Juanita Tolliver: I don’t want to take a dive in an airplane. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Nope. 


Juanita Tolliver: I don’t want that. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Never. 


Juanita Tolliver: Finally, Boeing’s troubles will start showing up in your flight searches soon as well. Both Southwest and Alaska Airlines announced yesterday that they plan to cut capacity for the rest of 2024. We haven’t even finished Q1, people. They’re planning to cut capacity because Boeing hasn’t been able to deliver on their orders of new planes on time. This is not a good projection for the rest of the year, especially for people who are flying west or on either of these airlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: No, not great. But I also am like, do I want the new Boeing planes? I’m not sure. I’m not sure. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right. 


Priyanka Aribindi: At this point, I don’t feel good. I was never a nervous flier, but I might be now. 


Juanita Tolliver: Officially. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And finally, good news for people who go on vacation and like to walk around naked after taking a shower. Airbnb announced on Monday that it is banning hosts from using indoor security cameras starting April 30th. The company used to be okay with indoor cameras, as long as they were in common areas, mentioned in the listing and clearly visible. As for why it is changing the policy now, Airbnb simply said in a statement that it was due to, quote, “extensive consultation with guests, hosts, privacy experts and advocacy groups.” I feel like that is code for uh they are liable in some way and didn’t want to be anymore. 


Juanita Tolliver: Right? Somebody got caught doing something they shouldn’t have been, right? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, and they were like, we want no part of this anymore. Fine. Outdoor security cameras and noise monitors will still be allowed so hosts can crack down on unauthorized guests, pets, or parties. But guests can take a sigh of relief. You will no longer be watched struggling to dice carrots with a serrated Ikea knife that is duller than Nick and Vanessa Lachey, [laughter] every single part of that line. 


Juanita Tolliver: I love that they’re catching–


Priyanka Aribindi: Perfect. 


Juanita Tolliver: –strays. Like we are ready for this reunion. Yes. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We are. 


Juanita Tolliver: They deserve strays, also this is why I have always been suspicious of Airbnb. Never booked an Airbnb, will never. Cameras inside? What?


Priyanka Aribindi: Juanita, I’m with you. I can’t say I’ve ever loved an Airbnb, but you know what I do love? 


Juanita Tolliver: What? 


Priyanka Aribindi: I love a hotel. So. 


Juanita Tolliver: Come on. 


Priyanka Aribindi: We’re back on the hotel train. 


Juanita Tolliver: Back on the hotel train, 100%. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And those are the headlines. 




Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, dance in your Airbnb like no one is watching and tell your friends to listen. 


Juanita Tolliver: What’s that song? Sometimes I feel like somebody’s watching me. Like, seriously, that’s the move. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yup. 


Juanita Tolliver: Let me close this out. And if you’re into reading and not just looking at the plane model when booking your next flight like me, What a Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Juanita Tolliver. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


[spoken together] And how do we get invited to the Love is Blind reunion. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Get me in that audience. 


Juanita Tolliver: Get us in those host chairs. We would kill that. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Get us there. 


Juanita Tolliver: Book us! 


Priyanka Aribindi: We’re available. 


Juanita Tolliver: Come on. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Netflix. We’re well versed in the source material, Netflix. We are available. Please. [music break]


Juanita Tolliver: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our associate producers are Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf. We had production held today from Michell Eloy, Greg Walters and Julia Claire. Our showrunner is Leo Duran. Our executive producer is Adriene Hill. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.