Should the US Ban TikTok?

May 8, 2023, 2:15 p.m. | By Sudhish Swain | 1 year ago

A ban is not the way to go - instead, the US must address the lack of data privacy and security legislation for its citizens

The US must address the lack of data privacy and security legislation for its citizens instead of resorting to an outright ban Photo courtesy of Bilen Tamirat.

Are you one of the 150 million TikTok users in the US? Do you find yourself scrolling through the app, watching entertaining and often hilarious videos on a daily basis? Now, imagine waking up one day to find that TikTok has disappeared from your phone entirely. How would you feel? Angry? Frustrated? Disappointed? As the US government considers banning TikTok, these questions have become more pressing than ever. It's time to take a closer look at the debate and determine whether a ban is really the best course of action.

As of March 2023, TikTok has 150 million users in the US alone, 60 percent of them between the ages of 16-24. The TikTok platform encourages content creation, allowing anyone to film and post videos for the whole world to see. Recently, the United States government has taken steps to ban the Chinese social media app within the US, citing national security concerns.

Under the government spending bill signed into law by President Joe Biden last December, TikTok is now banned on all government devices. On April 14, Montana became the first state to approve a full ban of TikTok, a bill which is now pending signage by Governor Greg Gianforte.

Most of us have seen clips of Congress barraging TikTok CEO Shou Chew late last month. During the hearing, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers grilled Chew on whether TikTok was engaging in espionage activities on behalf of the Chinese government. The lawmakers repeatedly interrupted Chew, demanding a simple "yes" or "no" answer to their questions. Despite the lawmakers' attempts to question the safety of the app, it was the very users of the app who rallied behind Chew and his explanations.

Why is the government so against TikTok? Put simply, TikTok is owned by Bytedance, a corporation based in mainland China. The 2017 Cybersecurity Law of China requires businesses to store select data in China and grants the government wide-ranging rights to check such data at their discretion. Tiktok’s privacy policy clearly states that other entities within their corporate group – such as Bytedance – may have access to its data. Therefore, the US is concerned that data from users within the United States may be demanded at any time by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), hence allowing China to essentially spy on the US. They also believe that ByteDance could manipulate users in the US by only showing them specific content via TikTok’s algorithm.

Lola Ajayi, a content creator from the DMV who specializes in food and product reviews, relies heavily on TikTok as her primary platform. Ajayi has lived in Silver Spring for most of her life and attended Springbrook High School, graduating in 2016. Ajayi has always been a foodie and decided to transition from sharing her reviews with her close friends on Instagram to publishing them for anyone to see on TikTok last August. “I already gave [all my close friends on Instagram] reviews … and also always really liked going out and taking pictures of food, so I was kind of like a foodie .. privately … and my friends were like, ‘Lola you should do [TikTok].’” 

Ajayi believes that one of the great things about TikTok as a content creator is being able to do whatever you want in the app. “I can share my firsthand genuine authentic opinions about the things that I am doing, trying, places I’m going, and I like sharing it with others.” When it comes to banning TikTok, she expresses a desire for better data privacy laws in general, instead of targeting an app simply because of its country of origin. “Let’s just focus on the privacy issues and how we can mandate them so there aren’t issues across the board.” 

Ajayi also notes the reactive nature our country has towards data privacy. “It seems like, after the fact of it already happening, that’s when people are looking into it .. or people are really talking about the fact that data was shared in a way that was not appropriate.”

So why shouldn’t we ban TikTok? As far as we know, ByteDance has never turned over user information to the Chinese government or used its algorithm to manipulate its users. By banning TikTok without any proof of harm, we would be undermining America’s core values of free-market competition and individual freedom. Additionally, a ban would disrupt the livelihoods of the many content creators who use TikTok to promote their content, including local ones like Ajayi. Not to mention, over 5 million small businesses in the US use TikTok, and a ban would severely damage their ability to reach new customers and grow their businesses.

Even further, it’s highly unlikely that a ban on TikTok would be considered constitutional - a federal ban on a major communication platform would interfere with Americans’ freedom of expression and association in violation of the First Amendment. 

Instead, it would be more prudent to work on creating stronger data protection laws and regulations that apply to all social media companies, regardless of their country of origin. This would ensure that user data is protected, while still allowing for the free flow of information and the opportunity for individuals to make their own choices about which apps to use.

Last June, TikTok announced they would be moving US users’ data to Oracle servers (which are within the US) to address security concerns, a task which was completed in October 2022. Before then, Tiktok had previously been storing its U.S. user data at its own data centers in Virginia, with a backup in Singapore. 

However, during the recent congressional hearings, Chew made a significant admission to U.S. lawmakers regarding access to user data from the app. He disclosed that China-based employees at TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, may have had access to some U.S. data from the app. However, Chew assured lawmakers that this would no longer be the case once TikTok's risk mitigation plan, known as "Project Texas," is completed. 

When asked directly by Rep. Bob Latta of Ohio if any ByteDance employee in China could currently access U.S. data, Chew responded with a clear "After Project Texas is done, the answer is no." He went on to state that "Today, there is still some data that we need to delete." 

While the US government has raised concerns about TikTok's ownership and data privacy, a ban would go against America's core values of free-market competition and individual freedom. Furthermore, a ban would negatively impact content creators, including small businesses that rely on the app to reach new customers. Instead, the US should focus on implementing stronger data protection laws and regulations that apply to all social media companies, regardless of their country of origin. By doing so, user data will be better protected, and individual rights and freedoms can be upheld. It's time to move beyond the debate of whether TikTok should be banned and work towards a more comprehensive solution.

Last updated: May 10, 2023, 7:49 p.m.

Tags: Congress government TikTok

Sudhish Swain. Hi! I'm Sudhish (he/him) and I'm one of the sports editors as well as a videographer. I often record videos at games, write beats, post recaps/galleries/videos on our social medias, and more! Besides SCO, I love running, listening to music, and learning new languages! More »

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TikTok Supporter — 1 year ago

This is such a great article.

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