The beloved social media app TikTok has taken our nation and many others by swarm, with over one billion active monthly users. For TikTok’s creators, nothing could be better than the app’s success; but for our country, the popularity might have some hidden consequences.
It is no secret that the relentless dopamine hits people receive from the seven-second videos can have addictive side effects on users. This well-proven fact is only a small reason why our United States government is considering banning the app from all devices nationwide.
The concern all ties back to China. The chinese government has laws that slyly demand data from chinese companies and citizens, which they justify by saying it’s required for “intelligence-gathering operations” according to New York Times. This data would include private user information, such as their location. TikTok is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance, so countries are starting to worry if data is being spread unwillingly.
Another concern is TikTok’s “For You” page, which is what the app will start playing as soon as it opens. It is an endless supply of user-made videos, along with the occasional advertisement. The For You page earned its name from collecting app data from each individual user, and analyzing this data to see which videos a user liked or skipped past, so it knows to only show the user videos they will statistically enjoy. No two users’ For You pages are exactly the same, because they are all configured to the individual user’s data. This is concerning because even though it is not collecting threatening information, it can allow misinformation to be spread easily through videos that are formatted to fit the viewer’s interest, so the user will be more gullible. This misinformation can range from a simple product advertisement to controversial politics.
Our United States government is beginning to take action. India had already completely banned TikTok around the middle of 2020. Now, more than 24 U.S. states have banned TikTok from government-issued devices, and it is blocked from WiFi networks at many colleges, such as University of Texas, Auburn University, and Boise State University. Other government devices, such as ones used by our Army and other branches of the military, have been unable to access TikTok for the past three years. These restrictions do not extend to personal devices, nor do the colleges’ restrictions apply to cellular data, so these banishments are not severely effective.
Throughout the past couple of weeks, Congress has been trying to put a definite erasure of TikTok in all of America. During Donald Trump’s presidency, this idea was brought up, but courts rejected those efforts. In January, 2022, Republican senator Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced his bill to ban TikTok throughout America, which was passed in December. A separate bipartisan bill was introduced that same month that also entailed TikTok bans.
On Monday, March 1, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to approve a bill that would grant the president the authority to completely ban TikTok. The bill passed 24-16 along party lines in a republican controlled committee. There were no democratic votes included.
Even though this bill was approved, TikTok will not be banned yet- our president will have to agree to sign it as well. This will be difficult. Center for Strategic and International Studies member Caitlin Chin explained that “a broader, government-imposed ban that stops Americans from using an app that allows them to share their views and art could face legal challenges on First Amendment grounds… After all, large numbers of Americans, including elected officials and major news organizations like The New York Times and The Washington Post, now produce videos on TikTok.”
The consideration of banning TikTok has been prevalent for about three years now, but no one can predict if the ban will ever happen in our country.
TikTok owners ByteDance deny any data sharing to China, but every other country does not trust their sources. If you indulge in TikTok’s content, you might consider protecting your private data by not giving the app permission to access your location or contacts. TikTok also allows users to watch videos without creating your own account, so you may not need to give any information at all.
The House Republican leadership is next in line for deciding TikTok’s fate, because they control which bills get a vote on the House floor. According to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, there is no clear timeline for any advancements. For now, make sure to protect your data everywhere- not just on TikTok, while we all anticipate the next announcement.