In 2020, the Trump administration attempted to ban the social media platform, TikTok, unless it agreed to sell itself to an American company. However, after lengthy legal battles with TikTok, the plan eventually fell through. Over two and half years later, the Biden administration has begun threatening similar actions against TikTok over similar national security concerns. This comes as numerous other countries such as Britain, France, and India have begun placing partial or total bans on the app.
TikTok is one of the world’s most popular social media sites, with over 150 million Americans using the platform every month. Due to its popularity, there has been ever-increasing scrutiny of its implementation in the US. Its parent company, ByteDance, is a Chinese company, meaning it is required to cooperate with data requests made by the Chinese government. This has led to a number of security and data concerns about the information that TikTok and, consequently, the Chinese government, could collect on US citizens. Furthermore, critics have voiced their worries about the risk of propaganda being spread via TikTok. This is especially worrying because Tiktok’s audience tends to be young.
TikTok itself has reassured the public that their data is being kept safe and private. At the Harvard Business Review Conference earlier this month, the CEO of TikTok, Shou Chew, stated that, “The Chinese government has actually never asked us for US user data, and we’ve said this on the record, that even if we were asked for that, we will not provide that.” He went on further to say that, “All US user data is stored, by default, in the Oracle Cloud infrastructure” and “access to that data is completely controlled by US personnel.” TikTok has also introduced their new initiative, Project Texas, which would make all of TikTok’s US-based actions overseen by Oracle, a technology corporation in Austin, Texas, and a committee of government-chosen administrators. Moreover, they’ve spent over 13 million dollars since 2019 lobbying the government against the ban. However, their efforts seem to be falling flat as legislators in both political aisles have continued advocating for the ban. Additionally, a recent Pew Research poll showed that 50% of Americans supported a ban in comparison to only 22% opposed to it.
Many opponents of the ban have pointed to the First Amendment, saying that a ban would violate freedom of speech. Others have argued that a ban would be nearly impossible to enforce in any meaningful capacity, resulting only in drawn out legal battles with little practical effect. Additionally, the effectiveness of such a ban on protecting the data of US citizens is uncertain, as recent estimates have shown that China likely already has data on at least 80% of the US population. Finally, there is the concern of potential government overreach and what this decision could mean for other US-based social media platforms.
It remains to be seen whether a TikTok ban will come to fruition, as there remain a number of questions regarding how such a ban would be implemented. However, any such ban would surely be challenged by TikTok, meaning it would likely take a number of years to fully come into being. In the meantime, it will be up to the American people to decide how they use and perceive the platform.