World Affairs Council

The Tiktok Ban: Navigating the Controversy Surrounding Government Action in the Digital World

It’s all fun and games until your favorite app gets banned. TikTok is a Chinese-owned social media app for creating and sharing a wide variety of short videos. TikTok has become a central debate in American policy in the last couple of weeks due to its alleged imposing security and privacy risks. The discussion of artificial intelligence, chatbots, and the increasing reliability of wireless connection is consuming, and perhaps threatening human interaction as we know it.

Back in March 2023, the White House supported and backed a Senate bill that would give the authority to the Biden administration to ban social media apps, mainly Tiktok, for state and publicly-owned devices. The main concern is the user data security breaches of American users. However, Montana has made nationwide news taking this bill to the next level. It is the first state, and so far the only, that completely bans and prohibits the use and downloading of Tiktok. This was signed by State Governor Greg Gianforte to take effect on January 1, 2024.

TikTok has become a platform that globally connects people, communities, and businesses. The app has become a significant source of income for individual influencers that benefit companies. The platform allows for the creative expression and advertisement of products and services that
drive purchasing decisions, revenue streams, and traffic. This ban will financially damage individual entrepreneurs, supply chains, and businesses and overall negatively impact the economy.

Beyond the damaging financial impact, the defenders of TikTok believe the allegation to be unconstitutional. The ban restricts the legal speech of the people in Montana, by infringing on the right of expression that the app made possible. Further arguments also state that it is simply impossible to ban an app in one state as companies such as Apple and Google do not function by state but rather nationwide. It is not feasible for these companies to control the download of an app within the borders of a state.
The feasibility of the implementation of the ban is also highly questioned. It goes beyond the app itself to infringements on basic American rights, control, surveillance, and privacy. Ironically, the future of the ban may reflect a paradoxical catch-22. Many questions remain from civil society, advocacy groups, and government officials on the future impact of the digital world in society.

Written by Community Outreach Intern, Kiana Flak

Read more

The Paradox of Poverty and Wealth in Africa

The exploitation of the continent of Africa’s wealth and resources is not unprecedented. The modern exploitation of its resources is a cycle of history reflecting the “Scramble for Africa” in the 1880s. The scramble represents the helpless African countries from the division and exploitation of lead-in global powers such as Russia, China, and the United States.  In the 21st century, the race to occupy, gain, and maintain allies in Africa is a fight for commercial, diplomatic, and geopolitical power in the continent. 

The question becomes then, if Africa is filled with wealth why does widespread poverty persist? African states are assets due to abundant rich natural resources, yet the continent remains abject to widespread poverty. The ownership of deposits of oil and precious minerals such as diamonds, gold, and tantalum (like in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria) is under the control of private companies. International mining companies have licenses to cultivate their treasures, generating revenues for only private elitists. This continues to fuel a cycle of corruption and exclusion. 

The growing influence of Russia and China reflects the increasing value of Africa for its resources. The Belt and Road Initiative in 2019 is Beijing’s infrastructure and investment initiative that currently is increasing tension with the European Union, and its ally the United States. Italy is the only G7 country to join as a partner to revitalize its economy but now is preparing to withdraw. Italy’s position in the plan would prove itself as a trustworthy ally to the United States and European Union but on the other hand provoke and escalate problems with China. China’s plan to expand its global influence is causing more tensions in Africa and the potential for diplomatic fallouts. 

A proposed solution is the diversification of African economies rather than solely the exportation of raw materials. However, international trade networks rely heavily on the existing supply of raw materials. The strategic initiative aims at stimulating growth and interregional connectivity and is a mere reflection of African nations’ historical patterns of invasion and exploitation. The reality is Africa is only seen for its geopolitical gain and economic incentive rather than as a continent desperately in need of development. 

Written by Community Outreach Intern, Kiana Flak

Read more

Vive La Révolution: Making Sense of the French Pension Reform Protests

For three months now, millions of French citizens have been taking part in the largest mass demonstrations seen in the country since the Crisis of ‘68. In France’s largest cities, rioters are shouting “increase salaries, not the retirement age” and “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” surrounded by torched government buildings and looted stores. The focus of these protests? A controversial pension reform act, including, among other things, legislation that would increase the retirement age from 62 to 64. The Macron government, one of the most unpopular in France in living memory, argues that the reforms are necessary to keep France’s struggling pension system afloat, though the French citizenry, grappling with one of the most pressing cost of living crises in living memory feel that with this reform, another piece of their economic liberty is being taken away. 

Most controversially, the Macron government decided to enact Article 49.3 to allow the reform to go into effect without the need of a vote by the National Assembly. Effectively, pushing through the reform without a democratically elected vote, and without the consent of the French people. To the French, this blatant disregard for France’s democratic institutions emphasizes the unpopularity of the current government, and has invalidated the French government as a representation of the French people. The wave of discontent shown across the nation, culminating in labor demonstrations like the publicized Parisian city maintenance workers strikes and acts of violence like the torching of the city hall in Bordeaux, emphasize the discontent already pervasive within France even before this series of unpopular reforms. 

Interpreted socially, we can see how these reforms emphasize the growing rift between the Macron government and working/middle class French. Those who have increasingly felt the pinch of first the COVID-19 pandemic, second, the resulting cost of living crisis, and now the social unrest of these pension reforms are increasingly feeling that the current government sways too much in favor of the rich. Additionally, the police crackdown on protests in numerous French cities has not only escalated the violence, but also called into question the brutality of the French police force. The wide push back to this set of reforms constitutes one of the most substantial mass demonstrations in France since the May ‘68 Crisis. As we examine them from a wider perspective, they form part of a larger wave of unrest around the world in reaction to the economic crisis left after the COVID-19 pandemic. This wave of unrest calls into question the sustainability of growth as many nations in the Global North not only recover from the pandemic, but also mature economically and demographically. Surely, more mass demonstrations like these shall follow in the coming years.

Written by Research & Development Intern, Andrew Martin

Read more

Clashes between Sudanese Military Factions

Beginning around Friday, April 14, fighting between two rival military factions erupted in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Humanitarian workers and diplomats have been caught in the crossfire as the Sudanese army battles against the paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, in the streets of the city. Previously, the two factions had cooperation “based on undermining civilian aspirations for democratic rule and rejecting accountability for past crimes, including genocide in Darfur” (Johnson, NPR). They were also responsible for the military coup in 2019. This ended as there were attempts to integrate the RSF into the formal military, and the death toll has climbed up to 180 people so far as airstrikes plague the region.

U.S. involvement may increase after a diplomatic envoy was fired on on Monday, April 17. Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, issued an official warning to both sides that threats to American citizens in the conflict would not be tolerated. The conflict continues to develop quickly and attempts at mediation by the international community and surrounding countries have been unfruitful thus far. 

Written by: Program Management Intern, Cindy Tse

Read more

 Post Earthquake Aid Crisis in Turkey and Syria

Following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on February 6, 2023, both countries have suffered over 43,000 deaths and shortages of basic human needs. The inability to access food, water, warm clothing, medical help, and shelter results in the demand of international humanitarian aid assistance. The influx of aid is not sufficient enough to provide relief to the thousands of families and communities that have been destroyed. On top of the natural disaster, the geographic area continues to endure political crises – such as Ukraine and the Syrian Civil War. Syria is already fighting a twelve year civil war that has slowly lost the attention of the global community. Families do not even have proper tents or blankets to keep their kids warm while battling the 4 degree celsius nights risking further deaths. 

Without international assistance, death tolls will continue to rise dramatically. The struggle to receive and distribute aid across communities puts immense pressure on the national governments and international agencies to help. The main emergency aid agencies active in Turkey and Syria are the World Food Programme, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, The United Nations Children’s Fund, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and Doctors Without Borders. From humanitarian aid to rescue assistance, the countries pledging support and providing relief are mainly the US, India, Qatar, Israel, Germany, and Italy.  The US Secretary of State has announced 100 million dollars in disaster relief, European countries are coordinating rescue teams and firemen, and other Middle Eastern countries are helping with aid packages.  Additionally, private organizations have contributed another 66 million dollars. 

Political and logistical challenges on top of ongoing war exacerbates the implications of the earthquake. In order to mitigate the humanitarian crisis these two countries are suffering, help from the international community is integral.

Written by Community Outreach Intern, Kiana Flak

Read more

Labor Strikes: At Home & Abroad

Just before Christmas 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order, effectively blocking what would have been a nationwide railroad strike right at one of the busiest economic periods of the year. The union was fighting for paid sick days in addition to better compensation in return for the increased amount of labor on workers caused by employee cuts. 

While the United States has so far managed to avoid these protests, a similar strike has been occurring in the recent months in the United Kingdom, where almost a month of international striking took place as a call for increased railroad worker pay. On top of that, “40,000 junior doctors, who form the backbone of hospital care, are due to walk out across England for three days starting [March 13]”(Al Jazeera), adding further strain to the already disrupted UK. 

In Paris, piles of trash line the streets as refuse collectors have been striking for over a week for better pension and retirement plans for a demographic where “life expectancy for the garbage workers is 12-17 years below the average for the country as a whole”. (France 24) The strike has been quite effective in showing the necessity for workers we often overlook, particularly the ones who perform the difficult tasks we take for granted.

In Orange County, we had our own student worker strike not too long ago that ground the University of California system to a halt. The growing trend of worker unionization is one to pay attention to as it has begun picking up in major cities all across the globe.

Written by Program Management Intern, Cindy Tse

Read more

Las Patronas

With Women’s History Month coming up in March, we wanted to take a moment to honor the women making the world go round. Las Patronas is a group of women who come together to support and give food to Central American migrants making the journey north in search of jobs and a better life. The group began in La Patrona, Veracruz, where the founders say that after purchasing food from a local store, they saw a train known as La Bestia (“The Beast”) with migrants on board who asked them for food. The women gave them the food they were carrying, and returned home, where they spoke about the experience. They decided to continue the work, now preparing between fifteen and twenty kilograms of rice and beans daily, which amounts to about 300 lunches. When passing the Beast, they have approximately 15 minutes to throw the bags, laden with food as well as water, to migrants on the train who catch them. The group has been working since 1995 to provide food and assistance to these migrants, earning several awards for their work, such as the National Human Rights Award in 2013. The group was also nominated for the Princess of Asturias Award in 2015, after a campaign from collected more than 50,000 signatures in support of their mission.

Latin America is structured by colonial, capitalist, and imperial domination. Migrants are forced to leave their homes as a result of revolutionary struggle, civil war, and U.S. imperialism changing the landscape of their countries. Hundreds of thousands of migrants make the journey north through dangerous terrain into countries where they continue to face persecution and an exhausting immigration process. Though these circumstances are rampant throughout many parts of the world, affecting millions of refugees who seek asylum, groups like Las Patronas continue their life-changing work, making their journey a little easier. Las Patronas took their name from the village of their origin, but it has a wider religious connotation too: patrona means “patron saint” in Spanish. For the migrants, who grab a potentially life-saving donation from a woman they may never see again, the name could not be more apt.

Written by Cindy Castro, Programs Management Intern

Read more

The Taliban’s Enforced Restrictions: A Society of Gender Violence

The return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan has again threatened the international human rights paradigm. In August 2021, the monopolized control of the Taliban replaced the United States-backed government as they withdrew troops after twenty years. With a vision for an ultra-conservative Afghanistan through the leader Mullah Haibutullah Akhandzada, the country witnessed the obliteration of women’s rights and freedoms through harsh interpretations of Islamic Law or Shar’ia.  

The latest news in December 2022 faced significant international backlash. The Minister of Higher Education of the Taliban government banned women’s and girls’ education. This includes education after the 6th grade for girls and tertiary education in private or public institutions. The enforced restrictions are based on the belief that some subjects being taught, such as engineering and agriculture, violate the principles of Islam. As a result of a group of two dozen women protesting for their rights in Kabul, they faced brutal violence including beating and whippings by police forces. 

While gender violence is globally present, the recent rise to power of the Taliban is associated with increased violations against women’s security and rights. The implications of the ban further exacerbate women’s repression in Afghanistan. In religious-dominated societies, the violations against women are not viewed as criminal offenses but rather as a justification that men are entitled to. The patriarchal structure of power disregards human rights principles and worsens women’s vulnerabilities. UN Women, a United Nations entity dedicated to gender empowerment and equality, Sima Bahous says, “a society based on exclusion and repression could never flourish.” While barriers remain, the international community urges to take a position to protect women’s rights, especially access to education, globally. 

Written by Kiana Flak, Community Outreach Intern

Read more

La Crisis Política en Perú

On December 7th, 2022, Pedro Castillo, the disputed President of Peru, attempted to dissolve the nation’s Congress, placing a national curfew in effect. In light of a weak presidency, marred by the looming threat of the right-wing legislature in his opposition, threats of a censure for “moral incapacity” were met with one of the largest political disruptions in Peru’s recent history. Quick to respond, the Peruvian Congress quickly voted to remove the President from office, basing their decision on “moral incapacity”, and very soon, panic took hold in Lima, the nation’s capital. 

Protests quickly erupted in Lima, where panicked citizens rushed to hoard food and basic supplies, fearing an escalation of events. Castillo’s supporters took to the streets, spurring on violent clashes between protesters and the police, particularly in the capital, Lima, and in the south of the country. The state has responded to the protests with a major crackdown on civil and political rights. To date, at least 58 civilians are confirmed to have been killed, including 10 in a single massacre in the central city of Ayacucho and another 18 in a massacre in the southern city of Juliaca. The National Association of Journalists in Peru has indicated that 21 national journalists have been “victims of aggression or censorship”, signaling the biggest crackdown on media censorship in the country in the last 20 years. The social breakdown in Peru in the last month has been characteristic of the relative political instability the country has suffered since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1980, even as the country has made significant economic gains.

These political crackdowns, taking place heavily in areas with majority indigenous or Quechua speaking populations, call into question the use of extensive force by Peruvian authorities. Reports of officers in civilian clothes, arresting those participating in peaceful demonstrations have sparked dialogue regarding the brutalization and stigmatization of indigenous peoples in a country where about one in four are indigenous or Quechua speaking. The heavy stigmatization of indigenous in Peru has contributed to the overall brutalization of this sector of society. Indigenous Peruvians have been shown to have been disproportionately arrested, monitored, and killed by police violence in the last months. At this time, the protests seem to have no end in sight with the current political establishment still vying for the support of the masses, still, the larger questions brought on by this uprising will persist far beyond their conclusion. 

Written by Andrew Martin, Research & Development Intern

Read more

Where’s the Money?: Holidays and COVID Bailouts

Written by Fundraising and Technology Intern, Norbu Kangchen

Read more