Tiktok Vs. The US Government
Something that has been weighing on my mind, and I’m sure the minds of many others, is the potential ban of TikTok. Now, I am not embarrassed to admit that I have a minor addiction to the app, checking it a couple of times a day for no insignificant amount of time and also posting my own content quite frequently. The idea of my new favorite form of social media being gone is disheartening. It is an important app for many people who rely on it for entertainment, work, news, education, and more. But there are some serious security concerns regarding TikTok, as the data it collects could be used in dangerous and damaging ways. My questions are these: can those concerns be resolved in a safe, compromising way that doesn’t end in the ban of the app in the US? What did the Congressional hearing really accomplish besides showing everyone how technologically inept and incredibly rude US politicians are? And is TikTok even the real issue here, or is it just a front to cover up an incredibly invasive and privacy-breaching bill that the US government wants to pass?
To start, there are so many positives to TikTok. The app changed the global culture and shaped how we now use and share media. It can be an instrument for innovation and economic growth, as it is a marketing tool for many. It also inspires lots of creative content, as well as not-so-creative content, that serves tons of different purposes for its 150 million American users. And while it is true that some of the posted content is harmful (promoting ideas like suicide or eating disorders), that is an issue that every social media platform faces.
One of the main issues the US government has with TikTok is its data security. TikTok itself doesn’t operate in China, but its parent company ByteDance, does, meaning it is under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government. However, user data isn’t really secure anywhere. The data of TikTok users, such as age, region, passwords, names, and buying habits, is also collected by other online merchants and social media sites. The US government has never cared about that, though, because those were American companies. They only care now that China has access to the information. And there has been no evidence that China has used that information or that they will use it. There is also no evidence that they will spread disinformation or propaganda on the app either. Knowing this causes the push for a ban to move away from protective and towards controlling. It would be a move away from an open society and toward a closed one, limiting freedom of speech and the spread of ideas.
And the hearing that was supposed to convince Americans that TikTok should be banned seems to have accomplished something else entirely. Listening to Congress members, it was obvious that Washington had already made up its mind about TikTok. During the hearing, they completely disrespected TikTok CEO Shou Chew. He was talked down to (“The chair lady, she said you gotta tell the truth, okay?”) and received many borderline racist remarks (“I’m gonna talk to you in some language that maybe you’ll better understand”). Congress members constantly interrupted him and talked over him to make biased and inciting statements to the American population. He was also not allowed to respond to those statements (“Can I respond, Chair?” “No. We’re going to move on”). Chew was not listened to, and his words were dismissed again and again, all while being criticized for avoiding questions, many of which were unrelated to the allegations against his company. For example, he was asked about the Chinese genocide of the Uyghur population (“Does TikTok support genocide?”) when Chew himself isn’t even Chinese but rather Singaporean. And of the questions that were relevant, they just displayed that US politicians have no idea how technology works. Some of my favorite examples of this are:
- “Does TikTok access the home Wi-Fi network?”
- Demonstrating no understanding of how connecting to the Internet works
- “Why do you need to know where the eyes are?”
- Demonstrating no understanding of facial filters
- “Well, that’s creepy,” in response to how TikTok’s age dating, which involves asking a user their age and confirming it by looking at their public profile.
- Demonstrating no understanding of what it means for media to be public
They also gave him two solutions to their concerns: banning the app in the US or selling TikTok to an American company. However, Chew proposed a third solution: “Project Texas.” This project would move TikTok's entire operation to the US and put all of its data under the supervision of an American company. Sadly, his appealing compromise was pretty much shot down by Congress.
But banning TikTok is just the facade of this bill. There is so much more to the Restrict Act (S.686). First, it bans the use of hardware and virtual technology manufactured by or used to contact or deal with “foreign adversaries.” Next, it criminalizes using VPNs to bypass bans on apps like TikTok, with the punishment being imprisonment and major fines. Then, it gives the federal government power to monitor any activity from any suspected devices they find, meaning they can spy on anything that accesses the Internet. Lastly, it gives the federal government control to shut down any group of one million or more Americans doing anything together online. This bill is the Patriot Act on steroids. It will cause us to lose all online privacy and censor what we can see from other countries.
This proposed bill, which resulted in a Congressional hearing and a possible ban on TikTok, is not something to take lightly. There is a lot more at stake here than just losing a favorite form of social media. What is the right solution to solve these issues? And might it be too late to stop this bill that’s already been put into motion?
Writer: Sarah Moloney
Artist: Hannah Liu