Will TikTok be banned in the U.S.?
Is TikTok about to be banned in America?
The popular social media app is perhaps best known for it viral dance craze and others stupid videos. But TikTok is owned by a China-based company, raising concerns that it is a tool that could be used for purposes that harm US national security. A number of states — including Maryland, South Dakota, Texas and others — have recently banned or blocked the app of phones and other devices used by their workers.
There is also talk of stronger action: Brendan Carr, an FCC commissioner, recently called for the federal government to ban TikTokand Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced bill to do just that. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is working on a deal to keep the company operating while security concerns are addressed. Why do US officials see TikTok as a problem? And what can they actually do? Here’s everything you need to know:
What is the concern about TikTok?
Influence and espionage. Social media apps are frequently scrutinized for their influence on Americans — witness the brouhaha over Facebook’s role in the 2016 election and Twitter’s role in blocking a story about Hunter Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign. TikTok comes with a twist: it is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance. “It is not an arm of the Chinese Communist Party,” Vox reported, “but Chinese laws say it can be forced to assist the Chinese government.”
It raises concerns that Chinese officials could influence Americans by manipulating the app algorithm. Bloomberg notes that an American teenager was banned from the platform in 2019 for criticizing China’s treatment of Muslim Uyghurs, though that ban was later lifted. And like other social media apps, TikTok collects vast amounts of data about its users — a big reason why states now ban the app from government devices. “All of these things are at the hands of a government that does not share our values, and that has a mission that is very contrary to what is in the best interest of the United States,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. said in December. “That should worry us.”
What is TikTok’s response?
Of course, TikTok doesn’t want to lose its American audience. (Officials have acknowledged that China-based workers could access information, but say TikTok has not actually turned over data to the government.) So the company launched “Project Texas,” an effort to “secure sensitive data from its not to isolate American users. so that only staff in the US will have access.” It’s an expensive undertaking, but TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew seems to think it’s worth it. “I’m very confident that … with a will come up with a solution that will reasonably address the national security concerns,” he said in November. But that effort clearly did not assuage the concerns of US officials.
Wait. Didn’t the Trump administration do something about TikTok?
In August 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order that essentially banned TikTok and another app, WeChat, from the United States. The ban never took effect — there were the usual legal challenges — and in June 2021 the Biden administration reversed the order along with a promise to assess the risks of China-based apps to US national security. But even some Democrats have come around to the idea that Trump was right the first time. “As painful as it is for me to say, if Donald Trump was right and we could act then, it would be a lot easier than acting in November 2022,” Warner said. Vox. “The sooner we bite the bullet, the better.”
Doesn’t the First Amendment say something about a ban?
Yes. “Posts on TikTok are protected by the First Amendment as a form of speech,” writes James Andrew Lewis for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That means they can’t be banned any more than someone who wants to access Russian propaganda can be banned from reading Pravda or RT.” That presents obstacles to any government action to ban the app entirely. “The free-speech implications … are clear, not just for the individuals who want to speak, but for the community that created them,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a 2020 filing challenging Trump’s ban But if the First Amendment is a barrier to block the app from most American users, state governments will is free to prevent their employees from using TikTok on state-owned devices.
The Biden administration negotiated with TikTok to ensure the safety of US user data. But the talks “ran into delays”, The Wall Street Journal reports. “The company previously reached a tentative agreement with the U.S. government this summer, but senior U.S. officials, including at the Justice Department, do not believe the proposed agreement is sufficient.” TikTok has agreed to store US data on a server owned by the company Oracle. CNBC reports that observers think an eventual ban is unlikely — but not impossible. Instead, the feds could pressure ByteDance to sell the app to non-Chinese owners. “We continue to believe that TikTok will survive in the US,” one analyst told the network. But, he said, it’s a “close call.”