The global debate over the tension between free expression and social harmony is seemingly playing out everywhere today. China’s enormous economic leverage has created new parameters for conduct and behavior by business partners seeking access to the Chinese market. Just as the NBA had to very carefully navigate a tweet by a Houston Rockets executive supporting the Hong Kong protests that infuriated the Chinese state, so too must Hollywood producers, video game corporations, book and newspaper publishers, and numerous other businesses navigate Chinese censorship demands. These demands are becoming more common and more insistent, and on platforms like TikTok, they’ll no doubt continue to emerge.
Chinese censorship has gone global. Just as the U.S. government spent the second half of the 20th century encouraging the global expansion of American values, such as freedom of expression, the Chinese government has now opened the first half of the 21st century by promoting global restrictions intended to ensure approving portrayals of Chinese state authority. The consequences of this evolution in global media culture arise almost daily. When Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg proclaims the importance of free speech, as he did recently in a speech at Georgetown University, his implicit target is the Chinese regime that bans Facebook, not progressives who want Facebook to more tightly regulate political advertising and hate speech. Facebook, it should be noted, will soon launch “Lasso,” a direct competitor to TikTok.