Forbes obscures potential motive in writing pro-TikTok piece

March 22, 2023

By Tim Worstall

Forbes seems to be taking China’s side on a potential TikTok ban.

Given that Forbes is largely owned by Hong Kong and China-based investors, that seems reasonable enough. If a Chinese media company, ByteDance, can be forced to sell TikTok – or be banned from the U.S. – then other China-based investors in American media, like, say, Forbes, might get worried.

But there’s a disclosure Forbes should have made at this point. Not making the disclosure is regarded as misinformation, even disinformation. Because people don’t know, they cannot evaluate whether Forbes’ arguments are pure or are about its own financial interests. This is a fundamental issue of American journalistic ethics.

But Forbes hasn’t followed it. Its leading online article is all about how TikTok aids the American economy. It’s a bit breathless about how wonderful it is but not entirely untrue. They also ran a piece a few days back about how banning TikTok wouldn’t solve the privacy issue because look at what happened in India.

The issue is that the majority of Forbes was bought by those Hong Kong, China, interests some years back. There has long been speculation that, as the Washington Post details, this ownership has meant that there are editorial decisions being made at Forbes based upon China’s, or at least Chinese, interests.

Think of it this way. We have two ways to describe this story. Forbes tells us that TikTok is good for the American economy. OK. On the other way, Chinese-owned company says taking business from a Chinese-owned company is a bad idea. OK. We can see that both stories could be true. We also have very different ideas of how much notice we’d take of one story and how much of the other. But both descriptions are of the same story. So, how much notice are we supposed to take of it?

That’s the reason for making the disclosure. Forbes really should have said, in the story, that they are owned by Chinese business interests. Not to do so is a breach of journalistic ethics.

It’s not difficult to do so. My disclosure is that I contributed to Forbes online around the time of the story the Washington Post talks about above. I was subsequently fired over disagreements about my writing (not concerning China in the slightest). Now you know enough to decide what to believe. That’s what Forbes should have done when writing about TikTok and ByteDance. Pointed out that they are also an American media brand owned by Chinese interests. Not to do so is both unethical and also misinformation.


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