TikTok: A Prisoner's Dilemma

2020-08-09 2 min read

    Everyone has an opinion here and I’m late but joining the fray. I fall into the ban TikTok app. I would not be doing it the way it’s currently being done but there’s a legitimate case to make that the US should adopt a tit for tat strategy with China. China prevents many US companies from competing there so why should we allow it?

    There are of course arguments around us being the United States and needing to take the high road. This was a worthwhile belief decades ago when we had the belief that a richer China would be a more democratic and fair China but in fact the opposite has happened - China has gotten more and more emboldened and now has leverage and power. Why let it get any stronger?

    We already adopt trade restrictions and sanctions and this is another form of that. It’s also okay to adopt a new strategy after admitting a previous one failed - that’s called learning. And this itself can be an experiment where we try it for a set amount of time and then if it doesn’t have the desired outcome walk it back. A future administration can always blame this one for pushing it through.

    Game theory deals with theory of these types of “games” and the exploration and derivation of optimal strategies. There are a variety of games and constraints but a common strategy in a repeated game is “tit for tat”. You assume good intentions in others and only deviate when they prove they can’t be trusted. It’s commonly used for studying the Prisoner’s Dilemma which is a simple but fair representation of geo-politics: it’s better if both sides cooperate but one side has the incentive to deviate and take advantage of the other. Yet if both deviate each ends up with lower value than had they simply cooperated. This is akin to what’s happening with China right now. The US has been trying to cooperate but at some point we need to start pushing back.

    Technology has made the world both more interconnected but also created another geo-political battlefield. It’s important for governments to realize that older techniques may no longer work and to get serious about these modern challenges.