Media Beat: The Need To Know...Nothing (Column)

In Canada, more newspapers are one step away from the graveyard than it would seem. In the U.S., the huffing and puffing around TikTok continues.

man sitting on bench reading newspaper
Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

TikTok, The Witch Is Dead…Or Is It?

The huffing and puffing and finger-pointing going on within the ranks of the U.S. Congress against TikTok belies a bigger problem and that is vast amounts of personal information are being swept up, parsed and re-sold by a conglomerate of seemingly untameable Western tech firms that grab information from the internet without permission of the users.

Snooping on the average Joe Public feeds multi-billion-dollar industries involved in cloak-and-dagger espionage and selling us products. The alleged idea that the Chinese-owned platform TikTok may or may not be feeding personal data about users to covert organizations within the Chinese government would be disheartening, but no more so than the shenanigans that Google, Facebook and other widely used Western platforms do. Google, Amazon, and Elon Musk have received billion-dollar funding from U.S. security organizations, such as the Pentagon, to develop software that ultimately become intelligence-collecting conduits.


As reported by Quartz, A new report from Brown University’s “Costs of War” project sheds light on a renewed closeness between the Pentagon and Silicon Valley, with the Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence communities awarding contracts to major tech firms worth as much as a combined US$53 billion between 2019 and 2022.

In a recent Globe and Mail feature, writer Gus Carlson notes, “If TikTok is banned in the U.S., the biggest beneficiary will be Meta. Where else are TikTok‘s estimated one billion monthly active users going to get their fixes of mindless content like waterskiing squirrels, dogs skipping rope and people sharing in excruciating detail their morning bathroom routines?”

He then adds, “Meta is perhaps the most suspect when it comes to the ethical handling of personal information.”

It’s a good read and puts some balance into the poker-hot rhetoric coming out of Washington these days. This is not to say that TikTok isn’t a Trojan horse as much to say it’s one in a parade of mind sweepers freely operating with or without government oversight.


Canada’s Newspaper Industry

There was a time when the Saturday edition of the Toronto Star was as thick as a citywide telephone directory and the weekend editions of the New York Times and the L.A. Times were thicker still. They were a treat to read and a constant source of entertainment for those of us who liked to sift through the sections and cozy up to mysteries unfolding with well-researched, informative features and those delicious two and three-inch bits that would be put in place to complete a page.

I remember in the early ‘80s part of my weekly activities was to go down to the banking district in Toronto to go to Lichtman’s, an emporium of newspapers and magazines from all over the world. Because of where it was, getting free parking was almost impossible, so I’d plonk down a lot of money to pick up Billboard, Variety, and the weekend editions of the two previously mentioned American newspapers – all flown into Toronto for a coterie of readers who just had to have the latest news at their fingertips. And then the internet came along and changed everything. All of a sudden, at the tap of a few keystrokes the latest news was on my screen and I no longer had to make the trip downtown to become richer in mind and poorer in the pocketbook.


Well, I’d wager today that the most read newsprint in Canada is the weekly flyers sent out by Canadian Tire and the supermarkets. And few of my friends now take a subscription to a newspaper. For one, the subs are expensive, and the newspapers have become thinner and thinner and less with less information than ever before.


Earlier this year, B.C.-based Black Press Media sought creditor protection, imperiling the ongoing publication of dozens of small-town newspapers such as the Vernon Morning Star, and here in the Maritimes the SaltWire Network has found itself in a similar situation. Its assets include Halifax's Chronicle Herald, The Cape Breton Post in Sydney, N.S., The Telegram in St. John's and The Guardian in Charlottetown. The newspaper industry is in fast decline and if one wants to stay clued in on what’s going on there’s CTV, Global and the CBC, the latter having the most coverage of the three.

One can only wonder what will come when newspapers are no more, big news organizations are locked down behind paywalls and civic and federal elections are in play.



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