TikTok under the spotlight: an analysis of NBC News' approach and the potential instrumentalization of TikTok through an anti-Chinese ideology

32 minutes to read
Michela Bon

Unveiling the dynamics on NBC News' YouTube channel (NBC News, n.d.), YouTube), this article investigates whether its portrayal of TikTok (TikTok, n.d.-a) is impartial or influenced by an anti-Chinese stance, contributing to the geopolitical narrative between China and the USA.

The origins of the anti-TikTok discourse

Over the past few decades, the relationship between the United States and China has significantly transformed, shifting from economic cooperation to escalating rivalry. Accusations and suspicions, that the United States raised against China, have accompanied this transformation. Among the most notable allegations are concerns about the use of spy balloons (Kube & Lee, 2023), worries regarding the security of telecommunications networks (Reuters, 2021), and the presumed control exerted by the Chinese government over technology companies like Huawei (Bloomberg News, 2023). Trade tensions further complicate this relationship, fostering growing mistrust toward Chinese enterprises.

A focal point in this rivalry is the contentious issue of TikTok, the popular social media platform of Chinese origin. Concerns about user data privacy and security have led the United States to take actions aimed at restricting or even banning the use of TikTok in the country. Nevertheless, the question arises about the validity of these concerns and whether they might result from long-standing anti-Chinese propaganda. That is, how much of the issue has focused on the genuine concern solely related to TikTok - i.e., the possible release of information to the Chinese government -, and how much has this social network been singled out as a scapegoat to address broader concerns related to social media in general? To what extent have the accusations against TikTok been exaggerated to enable the United States to assert its hegemony over a rapidly rising and increasingly influential China?

This raises the question of whether TikTok has been instrumentalised to perpetuate the perception of China as the primary adversary and solidify a position of hegemony on the global stage. The goal of this article is not to pass a final judgment on an issue still under debate among governmental entities, nor to defend the Chinese government, or TikTok, from potential international law violations. Instead, it aims to show how the communication of information plays a pivotal role in shaping an ideology in the minds of its recipients, influencing how the public perceives these intricate international dynamics. This issue will be addressed by analysing the perspective of NBC News and the role it plays in contributing to - or mitigating - an anti-Chinese ideology regarding the topic via its YouTube videos and articles employing discourse analysis. At the end of this article, I hope to answer the main questions:  

“To what extent does NBC News play a role in instrumentalising and disseminating an anti-TikTok discourse, contributing to the promotion of an anti-Chinese policy consistent with government propaganda, and what factors influence the framing and presentation of this narrative in its news coverage?”

Discovering the subjects under investigation: TikTok and NBC

TikTok, an entertainment platform designed for sharing short-form videos to inspire creativity, originated from ByteDance, founded by Chinese entrepreneur Zhang Yiming (Forbes, 2023) in 2012. Evolving from its successful predecessor, Toutiao, ByteDance introduced Douyin in 2016, reaching 100 million Chinese users within a year. To navigate international expansion and adhere to Chinese internet regulations, TikTok emerged as a sister version of Douyin in 2017, garnering 30 million new users three months after merging with Musical.ly in 2018 (Business Model Toolbox, n.d.).

In the realm of privacy and security, TikTok adopts a proactive approach (TikTok, 2023 b). With a focus on limiting data collection and transparent disclosure of data usage, since October 2022, the platform entrusts new protected U.S. user data exclusively to TikTok U.S. Data Security (TikTok, n.d.-b), managed in America. Stored securely on Oracle infrastructure (Calamug, 2022), data access is controlled by TikTok USDS, transitioning to Oracle’s management through controlled gateways. Currently, the parent company is 60% owned by global institutional investors such as the Carlyle Group, General Atlantic and Susquehanna International Group; another 20% is in the hands of ByteDance employees from around the world (approximately 7,000 Americans); and the remaining 20% is owned by the company founder - Zhang Yiming - a private investor who is not part of any State or government entity (TikTok, 2023a). ByteDance does not have a single global headquarters, nor does TikTok, whose headquarters are located in Los Angeles and Singapore and has several offices around the world, such as New York, London, Dubai, and Paris, however, the app is not available in mainland China. ByteDance’s board of directors consists of five people, three of whom are from the U.S.A., and none of whom are part of any State or government body. Four represent the company investors, while the fifth represents the company and its employees.

While Chinese law mandates media licences for specific products in mainland China, a 1% ownership by a government-affiliated entity in Douyin Information Service Co. complies with local regulations. This agreement is specific to the Chinese market and has no impact on ByteDance’s global operations, including TikTok, which remains unavailable in mainland China.

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) ("NBC", 2024) is a cornerstone of American commercial television and a former radio network. Nestled in the Rockefeller Center in New York City, with a global presence through offices and staff, NBC has been a prominent broadcaster in the United States for nearly 75 years. Its roots trace back to 1926 when the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), founded by General Electric, established it. General Electric later acquired NBC for $6.4 billion in 1986. Today, NBC is part of the NBCUniversal ("NBC Universal Media", 2024) group, operating as a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation. With a reach of 112 million households in the United States, the network offers programs to over 200 affiliated stations.

NBC News serves as the news arm of the American television network NBC, overseeing channel news programming along with CNBC for business news and MSNBC for political and economic news. This division falls under NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, a sector responsible for 66% of the total revenue in 2021 - the diverse activities of the news division report to NBC News President Rebecca Blumenstein. On February 21, 1940, NBC News made history by broadcasting the first regularly scheduled news show in American television history. The division is responsible for NBC Nightly News, America's leading newscast, the pioneering morning television show Today, and the enduring Meet the Press, the longest-running television series in American history, airing on Sunday mornings with journalist interviews. NBC News also opens the door to 70 years of unique historical videos from the NBCUniversal archives.

This concise historical overview of NBC and NBC News seeks to offer a broad understanding of the subject and underscore this network's profound impact in shaping Americans' perspectives and choices. According to a Statista poll (Stoll, 2023) conducted in 2022, 25% of American voters perceived NBC as a highly reputable source of news and information, while 35% considered it reasonably credible. Only 12% expressed severe reservations about the network's integrity, categorising it as "not at all credible." These findings reveal that more than half of the respondents view NBC as a reliable source of information to form their understanding of reality.

Theoretical framework

The examples presented below aim to show how a language is a powerful tool that can manipulate and "normalize" certain ideologies and parts of everyday life to such an extent that the audience does not realise that they are linked to an ideology. How is such a situation possible in a world where any information can be accessed at any time? Before answering this question, it is essential to introduce the concept of ideology.

Ideology could be defined as a ‘subject of inquiry characterised by an intricate relationship with ideas, beliefs, and opinions. This definition may be somewhat simplistic as it is crucial to understand that ideology is not simply the sum of these parts but “is deeply rooted in patterns of meaning, frames of interpretation, worldviews, and everyday modes of thought and explanation” (Verschueren, 2011). If content is the dominant element of ideology, examining how beliefs, ideas, and opinions are expressed in language and the rhetorical purposes they pursue is essential. 

Thus, ideology can be better explained as a complex socio-cultural-cognitive process not limited to the individual’s individuality but proceeding beyond it, that is, into social collectivity. It is as if each individual possesses a unique mental framework that allows him to process the information he receives from the outside world; with the concept of ideology, it is as if this mental framework is extended, representing a common and shared framework that emphasises the collective nature of cognition. This phenomenon is characterised by its emphasis on specific elements of society involving a particular form of intersubjectivity, perspectives, emotions, and shared positions. As a result, once specific modes of thinking are perceived as ‘normal’ in people’s regular interactions, they become powerful tools for legitimising attitudes, behaviours, and policies, regardless of the possible negative inclinations they may have, and may even result in legitimising patterns of domination and even violence (Verschueren, 2010). In truth, Marxist theory defines ideology as a set of ideas and beliefs that dominate society and justify the power and privileges of the ruling class. Thompson further defines ideology as "meaning in the service of power" to emphasise how meaning is employed to establish and perpetuate relations of domination. 

In the modern era, ideology plays a central role in power relations. It can be instrumentalised to establish cultural, social, political, or thought hegemony, leading to dominance over outsiders of the ideology. To better understand the connection between ideology and hegemony, it is necessary to clearly understand these two concepts, as they may be related but do not coincide. Let us start by providing a more specific definition of hegemony. There is no single all-encompassing definition for this phenomenon. In Gramsci’s definition, hegemony is “the capacity of a class, a social or intellectual group, a political formation, to attract, influence, and politically direct other classes” (Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere, 1929). Another definition that fits perfectly with the logic of this discourse is found in Blommaert (2005: 253), where hegemony is described as the “Dominance of particular ideologies or sets of ideologies in a particular social environment.

Therefore, hegemony should not be thought of as the dominance of one state over another through force. This definition is not representative of most present hegemonies, often imposed through the spread of a particular ideology, resulting in a hegemony of thought over the rest of society. Hegemony represents cultural domination over the rest of society, which does not necessarily have to be understood in a negative sense. Ideology and hegemony can be closely related, as the dominance of an ideology in a social context leads to its hegemony, as previously highlighted.

This theoretical background is crucial to understanding the power of the media in a contemporary capitalist society in which symbolic representation, discourse, and seriousness in the dynamics of the system and social life are highly relevant (Fairclough, 1995; Giddens, 1991; Habermas, 1987). Purvis and Hunt (1993) argue that despite making it possible to make an analytical distinction between discourse and ideology, ideology should be understood as an effect of discourse. Discourse is the most powerful means to convey an ideology because when discourse is mobilised to reinforce systems of social power, it functions as ideology (Purvis & Hunt, 1993). However, discourse does not necessarily have to be ideological; what is certain is that ideology manifests itself in the form of discourse.

It becomes evident, therefore, the reason for wanting to investigate the role of the media in disseminating certain ideologies. Let us recall for a moment the survey conducted by Statista in 2022 (Stoll, 2023) that was previously mentioned: American voters were asked to express their thoughts on the credibility of NBC, and the results showed that 60% of voters consider this media a reputable source of news and information. If these same voters use NBC as their sole source of information, in addition to acquiring information, they would also passively absorb the ideologies promoted by it. Hence, the media plays a fundamental role in the relational balance between ideology and hegemony, with potentially immediate and tangible effects on the audience, namely, American society. In the specific case under analysis, as previously defined, the aim is to understand the role that NBC News plays or does not play in instrumentalising and spreading an anti-TikTok discourse to promote an anti-Chinese policy in line with government propaganda. The goal is to understand how much of the discourse on TikTok is presented objectively, reporting accurate facts without reprocessing information through an anti-Chinese propaganda lens.

Methodology: discourse analysis 

The research data are subjected to discourse analysis (Blommaert, 2005), and then language in action will be examined. The analysis of the selected videos will include more than the study of the language used. However, the participants’ context, intertextuality, and actions as part of the discourse will be considered. Since the YouTube videos exhibit multimodal characteristics, they will also be analysed using multimodal discourse analysis. This technique makes it possible to consider multiple factors beyond language and understand how they interact. 

The data will also be analysed through the lens of indexicality, which allows us to give meaning to the text, i.e. the language used, based on the context in which it is used. In this way, it will be possible to understand and analyse whether and how NBC News promoted an anti-Chinese policy by instrumentalising TikTok. 

In the examination of NBC News’ YouTube channel, a variety of methods for disseminating information were identified and broadly categorised into three groups: brief videos, addressing specific questions in a matter of seconds; mid-length videos, aiming to delve into a particular topic with varying degrees of detail, serving either to capture audience attention on specific subjects or to comprising brief interviews featuring one-on-one questions with an expert in the relevant discourse field; and longer videos striving to provide comprehensive coverage of a topic.

Notably, how the news outlet dissects these longer videos is interesting; videos with multiple interviewed guests are frequently segmented. In addition to the full-length video, several short videos are available, each representing a division of the longer piece whenever a guest changes. This last type of video gives one pause for thought; it seems that criticising or not criticising TikTok and social networks in general, however, the newspaper, in order to report information, must somehow adapt to the viewers’ new way of receiving information, i.e. via short videos, as proof of the drastic drop in attention caused by the constant use of social networks.

Evidence of filtered disclosure by NBC News

In choosing the dataset to address the research question, an analysis was conducted on three videos illustrating how the newspaper presents itself to the public. The initial video, “Could TikTok be banned in the U.S. for good?" (NBC News, 2023) lasted approximately 2 minutes and garnered 46,182 views, 496 likes, and 770 comments, falling within the average range. This video was uploaded on March 1, 2023, approximately 20 days before the ruling, during which TikTok's CEO was required to respond to a series of inquiries from members of Congress.

It is recommended to view it before proceeding with the reading. Immediate attention should be given to the text accompanying the video: “The social media giant TikTok is the latest front in rising tensions between the U.S. and China. NBC News’ Jacob Ward shares more about the ban on government devices due to data concerns,” particularly to “the latest front in rising tensions between the U.S. and China.” Anyone reading this headline and not yet informed about the video’s content or the issue presented in the video is already influenced to perceive that any issue TikTok may have (to the extent of risking a national ban) is an instrument of economic-political tension between the two countries. The problem with TikTok is not even presented before it is automatically framed through an “anti-Chinese” ideological lens. Viewers have yet to have the opportunity to press play, yet they already see TikTok as a problem in the ongoing struggle between the two nations.

Screenshot [minute 0:13] from the YouTube video: “Could TikTok be banned in the U.S. for good?"

Several considerations prompted the analysis of the video. Primarily, the video effectively directs attention to the topic of the “TikTok’s possible ban.” Its concise and captivating nature, evident in its brevity, contributes to its efficacy in engaging the audience. Noteworthy is the sustained interaction in the comments section, persisting even seven months after its publication, with the latest comment dated November 9. A pivotal reason for recommending this video is its immediate focus on the core issue, introduced within the initial seconds—namely, the alarming capacity of TikTok’s algorithm to amass a considerable volume of sensitive data.

The video underscores the significance of this concern by emphasising data ownership, noting the presence of a ‘Chinese company’ and displaying the Chinese flag. This emphasis on ownership, while relevant, overlooks the broader issue, which is the unregulated potential of these tools to collect data without hindrance. The absence of legislation safeguarding this sensitive data of American users poses a significant risk, a point that will be explored further in subsequent sections of the analysis.

"TikTok the latest front in a deepening war of words with China"

The use of flags in the video is a potent example of what Michael Billig termed 'banal nationalism' ("Banal nationalism", 2023) where the everyday representation of a nation becomes a powerful and normalised symbol. In this context, the Chinese flag appears when TikTok's ownership is mentioned, immediately invoking a connection between the social media platform and China. This banal nationalism is a subtle yet effective way of framing TikTok within a specific geopolitical context. The video's combination of visual and verbal modes contributes to multimodality, reinforcing that TikTok is a Chinese app.

The squeaky and catchy tone of the host's voice adds a layer of entertainment and memorability, while the visual cue of the Chinese flag amplifies the association with the nation. By swiftly transitioning to comparing the U.S. and Chinese flags, the video creates a dichotomy that sets the stage for a conflict narrative.

Moreover, the juxtaposition of flags enhances the ideological impact. In the U.S., the common perception is that China operates with solid state control. The video subtly implies that the app is intricately tied to the Chinese government by presenting TikTok in proximity to the Chinese flag. This association facilitated through banal nationalism and multimodal elements, contributes to the underlying message that TikTok is embroiled in a geopolitical struggle between the U.S. and China.

 In this case, the flags serve as a visual shorthand for complex geopolitical dynamics, influencing the audience's perception of TikTok. The normalisation of this symbolism, as suggested by banal nationalism, makes it even more powerful and ideological. As a result, the video effectively shapes the audience's initial understanding, steering them away from the nuanced issue of data breaches towards a simplified narrative of national rivalry.

The video strategically incorporates a quote from the Chinese foreign minister reported by NBC News, adding another layer to the narrative surrounding TikTok's geopolitical context. The minister's assertion that the United States, as the "world's number one superpower" that should fear a mere mobile phone application is strategically placed within the video. This deliberate inclusion reinforces the existing dichotomy between the U.S. and China presented earlier in the video.

By introducing the notion of fear and emphasising the application's popularity among young people, the quote contributes to establishing a power dynamic. The implied challenge to the U.S. hegemony creates a sense of tension, further framing TikTok as not just a social media platform but a potential tool in a broader geopolitical struggle. The video leverages this reported statement to evoke a particular emotional response from the audience, simultaneously playing on national pride and fear. This addition aligns seamlessly with the preceding analysis of banal nationalism and multimodality.

The flags, serving as visual symbols, now take on an added significance, representing not just a company's ownership but a component in a larger narrative of global power play. The strategically placed quote reinforces the video's overarching theme, steering the audience towards a simplified narrative that emphasises national rivalry and geopolitical tensions over the complexities of data security and privacy concerns. In this way, the video becomes a potent tool for shaping perceptions and influencing the audience's understanding of the TikTok issue.

It's astonishing to consider how a mere 30-second video, armed with minimal information, can swiftly shape someone's perspective on a topic, despite a lack of comprehensive understanding. The subsequent display of a TikToker seemingly oblivious to the issue serves as a stark demonstration of the point just made.

“I am 18; we are all 18, like let me share my information with China if I want to, I literally could care less.” by @jordancraig_

The video states that federal employees have 30 days to remove the application from government devices, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee aims to grant President Biden the authority to enact a national ban. However, 41 states already have some form of ban or are considering it. Jacob Ward, NBC News' technology correspondent, mentions that a national ban could infringe on the First Amendment rights of American citizens. The position of Teresa Payton, CEO and Chief Adviser of Fortalice, is intriguing. She sarcastically emphasizes how America is somehow automatically authorized and in a position to proceed with a national ban, given that China bans American applications for similar concerns. 

It is intriguing to note that such a measure could challenge one of the foundational principles the United States has consistently emphasized as integral to its identity – freedom of speech. This principle has been a cornerstone of domestic governance and a critical element of the country's foreign policy. The irony lies in the fact that as the House Committee on Foreign Affairs considers granting President Biden the authority to enact a national ban, the move raises questions about the compatibility of such an action with the First Amendment rights of American citizens. Jacob Ward's observation, echoed by Teresa Payton, adds another layer to this complexity. Payton's sarcastic emphasis on the assumed authority of the U.S. to proceed with a national ban, drawing a parallel with China's restrictions on American applications, sheds light on the delicate balance between security concerns and individual freedoms.

Furthermore, this situation calls to mind Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's significant speech on Internet freedom (Rodham Clinton, 2010). This speech outlined the United States' commitment to promoting and protecting the free flow of information globally. Clinton's address underscored the importance of an open and accessible internet in fostering democracy and human rights. Notably, a potential national ban on applications, as discussed by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, could contradict the ideals expressed in Clinton's speech.

This historical perspective adds a layer of complexity to the current debate, highlighting the tension between national security considerations and the longstanding commitment to freedom of speech both domestically and on the global stage.

Returning to the video, although the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" policy sarcastically referenced by Teresa Payton may seem valid, it overlooks a crucial aspect: despite criticisms, China has established legislation overseeing user data privacy—a legal structure notably absent in the United States. Vanessa Barbas, a TikTok executive, is then featured addressing concerns about personal data, stating, "Under no circumstances would we give that data to China". In response, TikTok characterizes discussions of a ban as "political theater" and urges lawmakers not to "censor millions of Americans" in an official statement. However, a rare bipartisan coalition persists in the threat to ban one of the world's most widely used apps.

Vanessa Barbas: "Under no circumstances would we give those data to China" 

The video provides limited information, maintaining a general stance on the topic. From the perspective of NBC News, it serves as a preliminary introduction to a subject that will be explored in the upcoming days. However, there needs to be more audience comprehension regarding the video's purpose, as evidenced by ongoing comments months later, despite its lack of specificity in informing about the topic. This could provide valuable insights into the audience.

The employed language and depicted imagery situate TikTok within a geopolitical context involving the two States. Based on this video and similar ones, a preliminary inclination might be to respond affirmatively to the research question. Nevertheless, a thorough examination of various videos accessible on the NBC News YouTube channel suggests that it would be prudent to wait before conclusively attributing information manipulation to NBC News through the lens of anti-Chinese propaganda.

However, what seems certain is NBC News' adept understanding of its audience and ability to captivate attention. The utilisation of videos referencing the concept of anti-Chinese ideology endorsed by the government and the notion of hegemony as a power struggle between the two countries, with the U.S.'s position as the sole potential victor, indicates strategic communication on their part.

Revelling in contradictions: evidence countering NBC News' filtered disclosure

The second video under consideration falls within the category of brief-duration videos. In this instance, however, the matter is addressed within a distinct timeframe, precisely on March 24, 2023, concerning the trial wherein TikTok CEO underwent 5 hours of interrogation. It is recommended to view the video before proceeding with the subsequent discourse. Titled "TikTok CEO grilled by Congress over national security threat" (NBC News, 2023a), the video spans approximately 4 minutes and has garnered 217,539 views, 1210 likes, and 1001 comments, at the time of writing. These figures surpass the general average for videos published by the news outlet on YouTube.

This video was selected due to its presentation of an alternative perspective on how NBC News addresses the subject, with its unique construction. The language employed by the host, Lester Holt, in summarising the trial is imbued with tension, underscoring the trial's significance and the national security issue for which TikTok stands accused. This is evident in phrases such as "Is the clock ticking down for TikTok in America" and "storm of suspicion and distrust." The use of terms like "wildly popular" and "heavily criticised" accentuates the dual nature of TikTok, being adored by many yet concurrently a subject of substantial criticism.

"Is the clock ticking down for TikTok in America"

The central focus during the trial, on Chinese ownership and the potential national security risk associated with whether the Chinese government has access to American user data, is promptly highlighted. The CEO's responses to this crucial question include statements such as: "They have never asked us" and "I have seen no evidence of this happening".

In this summary of the situation, images of the Capitol Hill trial are shown, and it can be observed that the faces of Congress members are filled with emotion, as reported by the presenter, mainly frustration for not having received the desired answers.

Screenshot [minute 0:14] from the YouTube video: "TikTok CEO grilled by Congress over national security threat"

The dualism of selling the app or facing a national ban is revisited. Once again, the crux of the problem is emphasised in ownership to the extent that it seems normal for specific sensitive data to be generally accessible to the U.S. government and American companies. The issue becomes evident when the owner changes, almost justifying and normalising that this data can be used without protection by any American entity. Brief glimpses of the trial are then shown, and the frustration of Congress members, perceived in the previously shown images, is voiced. TikTok is also accused of spreading disinformation, a topic we will return to later.

Despite the assurances from TikTok's CEO regarding user safety, especially for teenagers, the security of U.S. data, and the role as a space for free expression, 43 states have somehow decided to restrict or ban the use of the platform. Having advanced to this juncture, one might ponder where NBC News instrumentalises TikTok within this video. In truth, its manifestation seems elusive, and a similar observation extends to other video instances. However, a distinct shift occurs from this juncture onward: an interview with a young man not only elucidates certain TikTok advantages but also underscores the unpreparedness of some congressmen in recalling the application's name despite its frequent mention during the 5-hour proceedings.

The correspondent, Savannah, makes a seemingly casual yet significant remark, "whether or not lawmakers believe the data concern is real." This statement, tinged with sarcasm, holds weight as it undermines the perceived condemnation of TikTok. A departure from the anti-Chinese narrative becomes evident towards the end of the video when the presenter accentuates congress members' substantial concerns about content disseminated through the platform, and specifically, "dangerous videos, trends, teenagers could be exposed to things like misinformation, violent content about suicide...". Capitol Hill correspondent Savannah underscores how these issues transcend TikTok, encompassing the broader social networking industry.

Several elements come into play in analyzing the video within the framework of journalism ideology. The video incorporates a "both-sided approach" by presenting multiple perspectives. It showcases the concerns of Congress members regarding national security while highlighting the potential advantages of TikTok through the interview with a user, aligning with the concept of presenting both sides of the story. While reporting on the trial, the video adheres to the 'Just Reporting' principle, aiming to present the facts objectively.

It showcases the events as they unfolded during the 5-hour interrogation of TikTok's CEO, and the use of images from the trial contributes to a presentation of events without injecting personal bias. Adopting a somewhat observational approach, akin to the "Fly on the Wall Ideology", i.e. simply recording and reporting events without becoming active participants, the video provides glimpses of the trial and reactions of Congress members. It seeks to be a neutral observer, allowing viewers to form opinions based on the events presented. 

In shorter videos, the information presented is sufficiently general to suggest that NBC News aligns with the prevailing anti-Chinese propaganda perpetuated by current and past administrations. However, as the narrative delves more profoundly, it transitions into more objective information. The presentation of one final video, titled "Unfortunate' TikTok CEO couldn't 'give clearer answers,' CSIS senior adviser says" (NBC News, 2023b), exemplifies this evolution.

Screenshot [minute 0:21] from the YouTube video: "Unfortunate' TikTok CEO couldn't 'give clearer answers,' CSIS senior adviser says"


In this specific instance, Chuck Todd discusses with Suzanne Spaulding, who is a distinguished senior national security advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former cybersecurity expert at the Department of Homeland Security. The discourse’s primary focus revolves around TikTok’s CEO and their asserted case for safeguarding U.S. data. Mrs. Spaulding articulates her scepticism, emphasising the lack of clarity in the CEO’s responses and suggesting that such ambiguity might be attributed to ongoing negotiations concerning national security measures with the administration. Notably, she underscores that concerns about data security needed to be addressed.

The dialogue further delved into Congress’s approach to addressing concerns related to major social media platforms. Senior advisor expounded on the imperative for a comprehensive approach to data privacy laws and advocated for fostering competition to incentivise platforms to enhance their practices. She highlighted that these concerns are not exclusive to TikTok but extend to all major platforms. Attention must be paid to the objectivity of the interview: the problem is finally analysed for itself without putting it in the context of an international power conflict.

This proves that NBC News sometimes uses specific language that seems to recall an anti-China ideology to gain the audience’s approval and, therefore, to follow the propaganda wave. However, at the same time, it can be objective in dealing with the topic through a "Just Reporting" technique. The conversation continued by addressing the question of what makes TikTok unique. The interviewee highlighted the privacy-invasive nature of the data collected by TikTok and the concerns about the Chinese government’s use of such data for information and propaganda purposes.

Chuck Todd: "Is Congress currently addressing these challenges in the appropriate manner?" 

Suzanne Spaulding: "...I believe that Congress should adopt a comprehensive approach by advancing data privacy laws..."

Another topic of discussion has to do with the regulation of algorithms. Mrs. Spaulding suggests involving external researchers to gain access to the algorithms and ensure greater transparency and early detection of any changes for propaganda purposes. Finally, the possibility of creating a structure similar to a public-private round table or an academic council to address the issue of algorithm regulation is suggested.

This video not only elucidates genuine concerns without veering off-topic but also underscores the imperative of addressing the issue promptly and impartially. The interview is devoid of any anti-Chinese ideology or attempts by the United States to exert hegemony over China, as exemplified by the imposition of algorithm sales. This decision is made cognizant that obtaining consent for such transactions would be unattainable due to the intersecting interests of business and national concerns—paralleling the reluctance of American companies to sell their algorithms to foreign powers. Instead, the focal point of emphasis revolves around the absence of legislation safeguarding the collection and utilisation of data from American citizens by any platform, irrespective of whether it pertains to TikTok. This accentuates the pressing need to augment transparency and security standards across social media platforms universally.


The analysis of NBC News' YouTube channel videos does not directly answer the research question, as evidenced by the variation in language depending on the video's intent and context. It could be hypothesized that NBC News employs language suggestive of an anti-Chinese ideology and a struggle for hegemonic power, particularly evident in short-duration videos. However, this seems more in line with riding the wave of government propaganda to capture the audience's attention.

This opens an intriguing avenue for further exploration into the prevalent ideology among audiences inclined toward videos that emphasize this specific discourse. An important observation during the research worth considering is that NBC News consistently endeavors, unlike other news outlets, to distinctly delineate issues exclusively linked to TikTok from those affecting the broader sector.

As demonstrated, NBC News maintains an objective and rational standpoint in elucidating specific dynamics, especially by excluding short-duration videos. The broadcaster offers a nuanced view of TikTok without the filter of an idealized narrative. It appears oriented towards informing the audience about natural dangers and extracting TikTok from the context of geopolitical conflict, as highlighted in the last two analyzed videos. The latest video attests to NBC News' ability to address the issue with utmost objectivity, perhaps with the intention of making viewers aware of the problems beyond media sensationalism. The dangers of TikTok are highlighted without succumbing to widespread speculation, as many issues — such as alleged data breaches from TikTok databases — still need to be proven.

NBC News' main goal is to shift the focus from ownership and a possible connection with the Chinese government to the real issue: the capability of companies like TikTok to access sensitive data. As indicated in the latest video analyzed, the goal is to make the audience aware of the dangers, removing them from the context of geopolitical struggle. The focus then turns to why companies like TikTok, both American and non-American, have the power to access such sensitive data. If the leakage of this sensitive data can be exploited as a weapon by foreign powers, why is there no legislation to protect citizens from this data breach?

In other instances, NBC News seeks to address a problem to raise awareness without overtly condemning a specific platform. An example is the video titled "There is Virtually Nothing You Can Do To Protect Your Online Privacy" (NBC News, 2022), which aims to inform American citizens about the myriad of information unwittingly disclosed online whenever they use the internet. This video tries to warn users that, regardless of the data collector's identity, the lack of legislation protecting personal data puts American citizens at risk daily. So far, these data have been collected and utilized by American companies or the government, perhaps explaining why sharing sensitive data has become a media sensation only with TikTok. Another concern arises from these data being often treated as reliable, potentially resulting in societal effects such as possible discrimination.

This analysis aims to underscore the crucial role of the media in information dissemination. When news reported on television or other channels is filtered through a specific ideology, it becomes a potent tool for propagating that same ideology. In doing so, the average viewer may need help understanding the existence of a lens and its role in distorting information.

The most concerning scenario materializes when a substantial portion of the media disseminates the same ideology, for example, the anti-Chinese ideology analyzed in this discourse; the audience may need the opportunity to comprehend the very existence of that ideology. Consequently, the dilemma arises when we are exposed to only one type of ideology, resulting in ignorance of alternative perspectives within the same narrative. There is never a singular perspective; often, the audience remains oblivious to certain information because it needs to align with the prevailing ideological narrative.

The onus lies on individual curiosity to interrupt this pattern. By seeking additional information through diverse channels, an individual can assimilate information filtered differently, providing a more neutral overview. One can circumvent a narrative skewed by a specific ideology by scrutinizing various positions on a particular topic.



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