《The Economist》2022年07月09日(经济学人杂志)【DOCX/MOBI/EPUB+MP3】

The world this week


Jul 7th 2022

Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, is to resign, but hopes to stay in office until the autumn, when a new leader can be installed. It was unclear as The Economist went to press whether he would, in fact, be allowed to hang on. A rebellion within the Conservative government made his position untenable: dozens of ministers resigned, starting with the health secretary and the chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister). Various scandals were unfolding: the deputy chief whip had stood down amid accusations that he had drunkenly groped two men, and Mr Johnson was shown to have known about prior allegations of misbehaviour when he originally appointed him. Mr Johnson’s chaotic management style and repeated failure to tell the truth prompted many who had served under him to say they could no longer do so.

Russia grabs more land

Russian troops captured the industrial town of Lysychansk, completing their takeover of Luhansk oblast in Ukraine’s east. The Ukrainian army is repositioning itself to defend more strategic sites in Donetsk, the other half of the badly bloodied Donbas region.

A conference on rebuilding Ukraine was held in Lugano, Switzerland. Officials from America, Britain, the European Union and international organisations attended. The Ukrainian prime minister said a “full-fledged” recovery plan would cost $750bn.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, urged the eu to be prepared for a cut-off of Russian gas. As electricity prices in Europe hit a new high, the European Parliament tweaked laws that would relabel gas and nuclear infrastructure as “green”.

The collapse of a glacier in the Italian Alps that killed at least nine people was blamed on climate change. Italy declared a state of emergency in five northern regions; a long bout of hot weather has caused the worst drought in 70 years.

A gunman opened fire on a July 4th parade in Highland Park, a wealthy suburb north of Chicago, killing seven people. It was the deadliest such incident over the Independence Day holiday, which normally sees a spike in shootings. Eight other people were gunned down in Chicago over the three-day weekend. Across the country more than 200 were killed in gun violence.

In an emergency session, New York’s state legislature passed a bill that would ban people from carrying guns near “sensitive” places, such as schools. The bill was crafted to comply with the Supreme Court’s recent curbs on gun controls.

The Supreme Court limited the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Joe Biden’s plans to tackle climate change will now have to be rethought, and approved by Congress rather than implemented by executive fiat.

Violent protests broke out in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan, over planned constitutional changes to strip it of its right to secede. At least 18 people were killed. A state of emergency has been imposed for a month. The proposed changes have been dropped.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s prime minister, said his country was “bankrupt”. Sri Lanka has all but run out of fuel. With inflation at 55% the central bank raised its main interest rate by one percentage point to a 21-year high. Negotiations are continuing with the imf over a bail-out.

A trove of Chinese police files has been offered for sale by a hacker in what appears to be one of the largestdata leaks ever, containing information on 1bn Chinese citizens. China is notorious for its lax data security. The government likes to keep data unencrypted so it can spy on people.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, attended a ceremony in Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the return of the city from British to Chinese rule. Mr Xi said the “one country, two systems” model for ruling Hong Kong had worked. Critics say it has been subverted by a new national-security law that takes away many of the freedoms the Chinese government had promised to preserve.

Israel said it shot down three drones heading for its gasfield in the Mediterranean that had been launched by Hizbullah, a Shia Muslim Lebanese party-cum-militia backed by Iran.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and his long-standing rival, Ismail Haniyeh, who heads Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, met in Algiers. They have been at loggerheads for many years. Arab intermediaries periodically try in vain to make them reconcile with each other.

Gabriel Boric, Chile’s president, was presented with the final draft of a new constitution. The document, which has been hashed out by an assembly including many political novices, is left-wing, Utopian and very, very long. With 388 articles it would, if adopted, be one of the wordiest constitutions in the world. Polls currently suggest that Chileans will reject it in a referendum in September.

Argentina’s economy minister, Martín Guzmán, announced his resignation, citing squabbling between the president and vice-president. Mr Guzmán was seen as a stabilising figure in a country that is both politically and economically turbulent.

Sudan’s military government said it would withdraw from talks aimed at restoring civilian rule and instead allow civilians to form a transitional government. Activists who have protested for months against military rule say they will stay on their barricades to ensure the army, which has staged two coups since 2019, does not cling to power.

Jihadists attacked a prison in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, freeing 600 people including members of Boko Haram, a terrorist group that straps bombs to children. Separately, gunmen attacked a presidential convoy in Katsina, a state in Nigeria’s north. Muhammadu Buhari, the president, was not there.

Police in Ghana broke up large protests against rising living costs. The government has started talks with the imf about a bail-out amid a deepening economic crisis.

Africa’s big scorers

Sierra Leone’s football association is to investigate two matches that reported the astounding scores of 91-1 and 95-0. Allegations of match-fixing have surfaced before in west Africa, notably in 2013 when two games in Nigeria ended with scores of 67-0 and 79-0. The highest-ever scoring match was 149-0 in Madagascar in 2002, when one team’s players repeatedly kicked the ball in their own net to protest against refereeing decisions.

Social media and security

Who’s afraid of TikTok?

The world’s most exciting app is also its most mistrusted

Jul 7th 2022

With its wholesome dancing and lip-syncing videos, TikTok once billed itself as “the last sunny corner on the internet”. Since launching just five years ago the app has brought a warm glow to its 1bn-plus users, as well as an icy dash of competition to the social-media incumbents of Silicon Valley. With its rise, a part of the tech industry that had seemed closed to competition has been cracked wide open.

Yet even as TikTok delights consumers and advertisers, others believe the sunny app has a dark side. ByteDance, its owner, has its headquarters in China, whose government is addicted to surveillance and propaganda—making it a worrying place for a media app to be based. As TikTok’s clout grows and as elections loom in America, there is a brewing bipartisan storm in Congress over its supposed role as a “Trojan horse”.

The hype about TikTok is justified—and so are the concerns. The app has transformed competition in social media. Yet unchecked, it presents a security risk to the Chinese Communist Party’s enemies. Finding a way for TikTok to operate safely in the West is a test of whether global business and the global internet can remain intact as us-China relations deteriorate.

Beneath TikTok’s simple interface lies fearsomely advanced artificial intelligence (ai). Its knack for learning what people like helped TikTok sign up its first 1bn users in half the time it took Facebook. In America the average user spends 50% longer on the app each day than the typical user spends on Instagram. TikTok’s revenues are expected to reach $12bn this year and $23bn in 2024, drawing level with YouTube’s. Young creators are flocking to the app—along with some older ones. This week The Economist joined TikTok (no dancing, we promise).

The effect on competition has been dramatic. In 2020 American trustbusters sued Facebook, now known as Meta, for its alleged dominance of social media. Today such worries look eccentric; Meta has been particularly hard-hit as tech stocks have taken a beating, and the firm is re-engineering its products to mimic TikTok. America often accuses China of copycat capitalism. Now the boot is on the other foot.

Yet concerns about TikTok’s Chinese ownership have long simmered. Donald Trump tried and failed to force ByteDance to sell TikTok’s American business to a domestic owner towards the end of his presidency. Today, with TikTok approaching twice the size it was during the Trump era and with us-China relations at an even lower ebb, things are reaching a critical point.

The most frequently cited risk is privacy. China’s government gives itself the right to demand whatever data it likes from firms based in the country. Though most TikTokers are unbothered by the Communist Party analysing their dance moves, the app’s torrent of videos could be trawled for face and voice data to add to the digital panopticon that China is building at home. Yet this worry is probably exaggerated. Most such information could be scraped from TikTok’s front end or bought online—especially regarding Americans, who are poorly protected by data-privacy laws. The advantage of inside access would be marginal.

The bigger, underappreciated problem with TikTok is the chance it offers China to manipulate what the app’s vast foreign audience sees. TikTok has gone beyond sunny entertainment to become a major news platform. Open the app and among the songs and skits you may see Supreme Court protests or a flailing Boris Johnson. A quarter of American users say they consider TikTok to be a news source. In countries with weaker mainstream media the share is as high as 50%.

That makes TikTok’s Chinese ownership a serious worry. The Chinese government actively meddles in domestic media; four years ago it shut down another popular ByteDance app, unamused by the subversive jokes being shared on it. TikTok’s content moderators are outside China. But the app’s algorithm is nurtured in Beijing. A tweak here or there could give more traction to videos questioning covid-19’s Chinese origin, say, or blaming nato for the war in Ukraine. Because each user gets a personalised feed, tampering would be hard to spot.

TikTok insists no such meddling has taken place. But a company vulnerable to bullying by an authoritarian government obsessed with media manipulation is clearly a risk. Anyone who considers this paranoid should consider China’s record in Hong Kong. Without new safety mechanisms, Western countries might one day have to shut TikTok down.

The first step to avoiding that involves technical fixes. TikTok is working with American regulators on a framework in which American users’ data are held by Oracle, an American firm, with limited access for TikTok’s China-based staff. To tackle the manipulation question, TikTok has offered to let third parties inspect its algorithm. It is hard to understand the black box of an ai program—does a glut of pro-Trump videos indicate that someone in Beijing is pulling a lever, or simply that audiences enjoy polarising content? But showing the source code and allowing ongoing inspection of how the algorithm is updated would provide some reassurance.

Clouding over

The harder step is to shore up TikTok’s independence. ByteDance’s efforts to separate TikTok’s management from the parent company must go further. TikTok should be ultimately responsible to an independent board of its own, with members from outside China (ideally including some who speak for wider interests than venture capital). Its ownership and voting rights should be more broadly distributed to give foreigners more say, for example by listing outside China. These would be ways of demonstrating that TikTok was genuinely autonomous.

China may bridle at all this. It recently classified content-recommendation algorithms as a key technology and may object to TikTok’s code being made available for dissection. It will be reluctant to cede any corporate control to foreigners. But it must recognise that if it wants its companies to operate globally in sensitive sectors, while the country remains an autocracy in which the state seeks to control business, adaptations will be necessary. If it refuses, the likely result is that TikTok—and more companies like it—will be locked out of the West altogether.

Correction (July 7th 2022): An earlier version of this leader referred to TikTok’s headquarters in China. In fact it has no designated global headquarters.





《The Economist》2022年07月09日(经济学人杂志)【DOCX/MOBI/EPUB+MP3】