If Niall Ferguson’s TikTok column was a person, it would be certifiable

A shit writes shit about shit that he doesn't know shit about.

“Welcome to the marketplace of ideas, I am here to sell you some really shit ones. They are very expensive.”

The amount of horseshit produced about TikTok since Donald Trump farted out his theory about the short-video app being a threat to the American state has been so substantial that it could be burned to heat a large city for a year. Now, with the inclusion of Niall Ferguson’s thoughts on the matter, the mountain of shit has reached such a scale that it resembles an Everest of effluent.

To begin at the beginning, as dear old Dylan Thomas had it, here’s how Ferguson kicks off his cack-covered thoughts:

It’s hard to get past the initial sheer inanity of TikTok.

I spent half an hour trying to make sense of the endless feed of video snippets of ordinary people doing daft things with their dogs or in their kitchens or in the gym. I figured out the viral memes of the moment: animals dancing to Tono Rosario’s “Kulikitaka,” the suspenseful unveiling of hunks or hounds to the repeated words, “Please don’t be ugly.” I asked my eight-year-old son what I should look out for. He recommended the dancing ferret. I never found it.

Thirty minutes of TikTok left me with just one burning question: How can this thing be a threat to U.S. national security?

And then I had the epiphany. TikTok is not just China’s revenge for the century of humiliation between the Opium Wars and Mao’s revolution. It is the opium — a digital fentanyl, to get our kids stoked for the coming Chinese imperium.

First, the back story — which you’ll need if you, like me, never got hooked on Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat, and still use the Internet like a very fast version of your university library, and begin emails with “Dear …”

There we have some important context. This is a man who tediously avoids understanding how the modern world works but has been commissioned by Bloomberg to give what he would claim is ‘intellectual’ commentary. But for all the pseudo-academic waffle, this is simply hysterical cant from a hysterical c*nt.

I use TikTok — almost daily — mostly as a consumer of videos since I am 36 years old and prefer typing words to performing them. It is an addictive app. The algorithmic feed is really smart when it comes to recommending further videos you’ll like and the overlapping communities on TikTok offer up a broad range of content — from the silly and comedic to the dead serious and political. It’s a fascinating stream of information and entertainment. That’s why it’s so successful.

But what does Niall Ferguson, a man who has never really used the app nor more established apps such as Facebook and Instagram, think TikTok is about. Well, it’s quite, quite mad and this next bit isn’t even the apex of the idiocy:

So what’s the secret of TikTok’s success? The best answers I’ve seen come from Ben Thompson, whose Stratechery newsletter has become essential reading on all the things tech. First, Thompson wrote last month, the history of analog media already told us that “humans like pictures more than text, and moving pictures most of all.” Second, TikTok’s video creation tools are really “accessible and inspiring for nonprofessional videographers.” Translation: Idiots can use them.

Third, unlike Facebook, TikTok is not a social network. It’s an AI-based algorithmic feed that uses all the data it can get about each user to personalize content. “By expanding the library of available video from those made by your network to any video made by anyone on the service,” Thompson argues, “Douyin/TikTok leverages the sheer scale of user-generated content … and relies on its algorithms to ensure that users are only seeing the cream of the crop.”

In other words, “think of TikTok as being a mobile-first YouTube,” not Facebook with cool video. It’s “an entertainment entity predicated on internet assumptions about abundance, not Hollywood assumptions about scarcity.”

Of course, Niall Ferguson, with his many, many leather-bound books, thinks that people who use TikTok are idiots. He concludes this because he could not, for a second, work out how to produce a TikTok video that would engage and amuse people. He needs thousands of words to make his point and he can’t help being a boring bastard in the process. It’s typical that he has to lean on analysis produced by another ageing analyst — Ben Thompson — because that’s who Ferguson thinks experts have to be: Men in their forties and fifties talking to other men.


Finally, hundreds of words into Ferguson’s foolish pile of syllables, we come to the essence of his argument — why does he think TikTok is an existential threat:

Future historians will marvel that we didn’t give our kids crack cocaine, but did give them TikTok.

Like crack, TikTok is dangerous. For example, TikTok’s users, who are still mostly young and female, love lip-sync videos. These have become a magnet for pedophiles, who can use the app to send girls sexually explicit messages and even remix videos and dance along with them using a feature called Duet. Cases of sexual harassment of minors are easy to find: In February, a 35-year-old Los Angeles man was arrested on suspicion of initiating “sexual and vulgar” conversations with at least 21 girls, some as young as nine.

Imagine sitting at a keyboard and typing the words “we didn’t give our kids crack cocaine, but did give them TikTok.” In 2018, over 14,000 people died in the US after overdosing on crack. So far ZERO people have died from TikTok overdoses.

To address the issue of harassment and CSA abuse material appearing on TikTok, this is a societal issue that overarches any social media company. None has done a good job of dealing with it, nor have governments or regulators.

After many more words that ping pong around some of his favourite subjects — the Chinese threat, the decline of American imperialism, how smart Niall Ferguson is — Ferguson finally drags himself back to TikTok and his concluding thesis about the company and its intentions:

In 1986, the French leftist philosopher and comrade-in-arms of Che Guevara, Jules Régis Debray, lamented, “There is more power in rock music, videos, blue jeans, fast food, news networks and TV satellites than in the entire Red Army.” The French Left sneered at “Coca-colonization.” But Parisians, too, drank Coke.

Now, however, the tables have been turned. In a debate I hosted at Stanford in 2018, the tech billionaire Peter Thiel used a memorable aphorism: “AI is Communist, crypto is libertarian.” TikTok validates the first half of that. In the late 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution, Chinese children denounced their parents for rightist deviance. In 2020, during the Covid-19 lockdown and the Black Lives Matter protests, American teenagers posted videos of themselves berating their parents for racism. And they did it on TikTok.

Those inane-seeming words are now lodged in my brain: “Please don’t be ugly.” But TikTok is ugly, very ugly. And severing its hotline to Xi Jinping’s imperial panopticon is the least we can do about it.

In my opinion, Peter Thiel — who actively targeted a media organisation because it offended him and succeeded in destroying it — has fascist tendencies and quoting him approvingly should be as socially acceptable as pulling down your trousers and curling a steaming turd into the host’s soup. Unless your host is the corpse of G.G. Allin, it’s unlikely that would be at all well received. I am no fan of the CCP and a regime that is currently engaged in the systematic genocide of the Uighur people. I also have no time for the hysterical, whispered racism of Niall Ferguson.

This line — “American teenagers posted videos of themselves berating their parents for racism.” — and the comparison Ferguson makes with that to denunciations during China’s cultural revolution betrays his real thoughts: He is worried about a coming shift in the order of things. His comfortable position as a chin-stroker in academia, throwing out xenophobic, racist, strong man of history takes is under threat and TikTok is just a symptom of all that terrifies him. That’s why his analysis has all the rigour of a right-wing relative screaming at you for wearing a CND pin.