Then in mid-December, Oracle issued a press release that said: “By working collaboratively with the CDC and the U.S. Department of Defense during the pandemic, Oracle was able to extend the capabilities of the Public Health Management Applications Suite to help manage nationwide distribution and to collect patient data around COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.”

Moving well beyond its original sketchy mandate with Fauci’s NIAID, not only would Oracle’s National Electronic Health Records Cloud be the CDC’s new central data repository for vaccination data, but the company said it was “currently in discussions with dozens of countries around the world to adopt Oracle’s Public Health Management Applications Suite to modernize their national public health infrastructure and thus enable efficient COVID-19 vaccine distribution, therapeutic monitoring and diagnostic testing … This is just the beginning.”

It had been a productive and ultimately very profitable year for Ellison and Oracle. Also in mid-December, Ellison announced that his company was leaving Silicon Valley for a new headquarters in Austin, Texas, while he himself was moving to the Lanai Hawaiian island that he owned. Ellison had stepped down as Oracle CEO in 2014, but stayed on as chief technical officer. At the start of the pandemic, on March 23, his stock in the company (and he owned 35 percent of it) had dropped 11 percent. But shortly before he closed the government deal collecting all the vaccine data, his fortune rose $2.5 billion in a single week, bringing Ellison’s net worth to an estimated $81.5 billion.

This was despite a delay in his pending buy-in to the global social media platform TikTok, “an app for teens, filled with goofy dancing and lip-synching videos” as the Wall Street Journal described it — but a highly lucrative, and controversial, one.

Last spring, around the time he started calling COVID-19 the “China virus,” President Trump had ordered TikTok’s Chinese parent company Bytedance to either sell its American operation or be banned on U.S. shores, because the data it gathered somehow threatened national security. Suddenly Microsoft, Twitter and Oracle were reportedly negotiating bids to China’s billionaire entrepreneur Zhang Yming.

One aspect of TikTok that would doubtless have interested Ellison is the app’s use of artificial intelligence to shoot people news based upon their reading habits. “Powered by algorithms that can make its video feed addictive,” TikTok had turned into a global sensation, downloaded more than 2 billion times worldwide and with a $100 billion valuation. For more than a year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, “the app tracked users using a tactic banned by Google, which enabled it to collect unique identifiers from millions of mobile devices without letting users opt out.” While TikTok said it had stopped the practice and “promised to create a firewall between China and overseas users,” that’s apparently why Trump got so worried about possible Chinese government access to TikTok’s American user data.

In September 2020, Oracle announced it had reached agreement with TikTok for a 12.5 percent stake in the U.S. operation while also providing cloud services and security for the app. Walmart bought an additional 7.5 percent, and Trump declared victory for the new TikTok Global, which will likely go public once the dust settles and the sales are approved by the U.S. and China.

“Oracle hopes to use the TikTok deal as another model to provide security and cloud services to other companies down the road,” CNBC reported in September. Or, as happened less than two months later, to the federal government.

Could there have been an ulterior motive behind Oracle’s plunge into kiddie social media? At the end of August, the Journal of Adolescent Health published an article headlined “Tik Tok and Its Role in Covid-19 Information Propagation.” The NIH website would reprint it in November. Noting that the pandemic had generated the near-complete sudden closure of U.S. educational institutions in the spring, “noneducational screen time among young people has greatly escalated” and “social media have played a large role in youth resocialization in a pandemic society … Given social media’s ability to propagate factually inaccurate medical information at an alarming rate,” and given TikTok’s more than 45.6 million active users in the U.S., the paper’s authors decided to analyze the 100 most popular videos earmarked with hashtags for COVID-19 and coronavirus.

These had reached as many as 93.1 billion views, “demonstrating the platform’s immense ability to encourage sharing.” Only a handful seemed to have provided misleading information, while “videos by healthcare professionals were few in number … [but] often among the most widely ‘liked’ and shared across the board. The distribution suggests that demand on TikTok for more healthcare-related voices currently outpaces supply. TikTok has shown itself to be a viable means for practitioners to educate and dispel myths about COVID-19 to a broad and diverse adolescent demographic,” according to the article.

Some in the public health community took notice. “A growing number of scientists and doctors are making viral videos on TikTok to provide information on COVID-19 vaccines,” Scripps reported on Jan. 1. The group called itself Team Halo, with a goal “to try and reduce hesitancy.”

One of the “dozens of health experts from all over the world,” director of the Harvard Immunology Graduate Program, Dr. Shiv Pillai, went into a great deal about the messenger mRNA used to develop the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, explaining “why it’s safe and effective, as well as the side effects that would be simple to pinpoint.” Pillaj used poetry to get his message across: “The vaccine it will change our lives. To get a shot is to be smart. To make this virus bite the dust, let us all just do our part.”

According to Scripps, in other videos, Pillai talks about a child he treated as an intern. The boy died in his hands from tetanus because he wasn’t vaccinated.

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