TikTok Painted Black

Celeste Cariker, Copy Editor

President Joe Biden has begun attempting to have the popular social media app TikTok banned in the United States. While lawmakers are claiming that their motivations surround safety concerns, it is clear that action against TikTok has no real value in the pursuit of protecting the privacy and safety of American citizens.

The key issue being addressed by US lawmakers surrounds TikTok’s owner ByteDance, a Chinese firm that incubates commerce, content, entertainment, and enterprise services. Some fear that China may be using TikTok to obtain the information of American citizens who use the app, an idea known as “data-mining”, where computers are used to search large sets of data for trends and turn them into business insights.

President Biden demands that either TikTok be sold from Chinese ownership, or it must face a ban in the United States. However, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew insists that privacy is not an issue because ByteDance is a private company, and that selling TikTok would “damage the confidence of investors from all over the world, including China, in investing in the U.S.”

Alongside privacy concerns, the addictive qualities of TikTok, as well as the mature subjects discussed on the application, raise concerns about the well-being of American children. 16% of kids aged 13-17 use the app “almost constantly”, according to the Pew Research Center. The content surrounding drug usage, eating disorders, and self-harm spreads rampant on the platform.

If a ban on TikTok were to occur, some believe that it would be a positive adjustment for teenagers that struggle with the addiction to the dopamine released when scrolling on the app. However, it would not eliminate the usage, as it may just lead to the migration of teenagers to other platforms with similar content formats like Instagram Reels and Youtube Shorts.

Hypocrisy is seen when you broaden your view and realize that other social media platforms have records of child endangerment, as well as the abuse of private data, but are not being targeted by lawmakers. Alongside involvement in the Facebook-Cambridge analytical scandal in 2016 which supported candidate Trump’s election campaign, Facebook has referred to preteen children as a source of “untapped” wealth, yet somehow Facebook is of no concern. The attempt to ban TikTok in particular shows that the government is not concerned with privacy. It is not only foreign companies that can breach the privacy of Americans. All companies, based inside and outside of the United States, should be held accountable.

A ban on TikTok alone would not solve any of the issues seen with TikTok. Teenagers would simply switch platforms, and supposed data-mining would have potential to continue on other platforms elsewhere.

This generation of teenagers has grown up beside TikTok, previously known as Musical.ly. The platform has become a mode for young people to express their style, their opinions and their struggles, and find others that relate to them. 

To uselessly destroy a platform that brings together a whole generation would be callous. It sends a message to this generation that the communities they have built to get through the extremities of the world are seen as disposable by the older generations.

Now, progressives are fighting in favor of TikTok under the protection of the First Amendment, stating that the ban would violate freedom of speech.

It is not only foreign companies that can breach the privacy of Americans. All companies, based inside and outside of the United States, should be held accountable.

Previously in 2020, the Trump administration had interest in banning TikTok and WeChat, but President Trump’s attempts were challenged federally. It was eventually found that he did not have the authority to issue an executive order banning the app. The U.S. alongside other countries such as Canada, Britain, New Zealand, and India have banned the use of TikTok on government-used devices due to worries of security issues.  

Bipartisan senators have introduced the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats That Risk Information and Communications Technology Act, which would give the U.S. commerce secretary the ability to regulate and ban technology from six countries including China.

If Congress does not act, then it is possible that Biden may attempt to issue an executive order, which would be difficult due to the past failure under former President Trump.

The most effective possibility would not be action against TikTok, but for Congress to pass a privacy law that would regulate TikTok as well as all other applications and social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

The direct attack against TikTok is inappropriate and will be ineffective. Regulation for all applications and social media platforms would actually show that the government is interested in fixing the health and safety issues that surround social media.