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Wait, Is the Government Actually Trying to Ban TikTok?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Pace chapter.

In the interest of “national security,” last Wednesday, March 13, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill that could ban popular social media app TikTok nationwide. The motive behind the legislation is to try to force TikTok to divest from control by its parent company or risk being banned. The bill now needs to be voted on by the Senate, where the outcome is unclear. Lawmakers, however, insist that this is not a targeted ban on TikTok specifically.  

TikTok, used by 170 million Americans, is owned by Chinese internet technology company ByteDance Ltd. Instead of pursuing comprehensive federal privacy legislation, American lawmakers claim that the ban is to protect American users’ data from the Chinese government and prevent the spreading of communist propaganda through the app. Though, the platform has confirmed that Americans’ data is only stored on U.S. servers, and the company has not been asked for data, nor would they allow access to it. Hypothetically, the concern is that ByteDance would have to turn over user data if mandated by the Chinese government. This is because China has a set of national security laws that requires organizations to assist the government in gathering intelligence. If the bill passes through the Senate, TikTok would have 165 days to sell the app or be banned from app stores and web-hosting services.

Though President Joe Biden has already said that if the bill makes it to the oval office he’ll sign it, the likelihood of the bill receiving enough votes in the Senate is questionable. Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer has been evasive about bringing the bill to floor for a vote, and some members of Congress have vowed to their constituents that they’ll oppose it. Even if the bill manages to garner enough support, it could go on to face legal challenges. TikTok has said that they’ll consider their legal options before opting to sell its U.S. operations and has successfully thwarted similar movements in court. The app would also have to contend with several technical and legal difficulties in divesting from ByteDance. Media corporations with the capacity to buy TikTok, like Google and Meta, likely won’t due to our government’s staunch use of antitrust laws that prevent media giants from becoming bigger. 

Additionally, divesting would require the Chinese government’s approval, who’ve previously said they won’t support a forced sale. Last year, the Chinese foreign ministry openly condemned the American government’s efforts to ban TikTok, before Shou Zi Chew, the platform’s CEO, testified in front of Congress. Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the ministry, said during a daily press briefing, “In recent years, though the United States has never found any evidence of TikTok posing a threat to U.S. national security, it has never stopped going after TikTok.” Chew said in a video posted to TikTok’s official account on the app, “This bill gives more power to a handful of other social media companies. It will also take billions of dollars out of the pockets of creators and small businesses. It will put more than 300,000 American jobs at risk.”

There are many speculations as to why the American government is cracking down on Tiktok. Many, including myself, speculate that this has to do with the Tech Cold-War the United States and China currently find themselves in. During the Trump presidency, ZTE, a Chinese telecoms equipment manufacturer, was temporarily banned from purchasing U.S. semiconductors. Semiconductors are material products with both insulator and conductor properties. Also called chips or semis, they can be found in products like smartphones, computers, medical instruments, gaming hardware, etc. The industry is focused on three main goals, making semiconductors: faster, smaller, and cheaper. The Biden administration has expanded on the restrictions on American investment in the Chinese tech sector. The logic behind such restrictions is to prevent Americans’ money from funding high-tech companies, whose products and services could also be used by the Chinese military. U.S. chip makers worry that losing sales to their Chinese counterparts could result in less funding for research and development, making it more difficult to manufacture the cutting-edge chips that give the U.S. a global lead in the semiconductor industry. 

I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that TikTok has become a global hub for activism and organizing, especially considering what’s transpired over the last six months in Gaza.

Aside from the questionable motives of the ban, does the United States not arguably have bigger fish to fry? A survey published by the Commonwealth Fund in Oct. 2023 revealed that one in three Americans owe money to a healthcare provider, and out of a 7,800 randomly selected sample, 38% of people reported that they delayed or completely avoided seeking medical care or filling a prescription drug because they are not able to afford it. 39% said they had to cut expenses from necessities, like rent and food, due to medical debt.

According to the Pew Research Center, more Americans have died from gun-related injuries in 2021 than any other year on record. 61% of Americans think that it’s too easy to obtain a gun legally, and 58% of adults want stricter gun control legislation. Parents, students, and educators live in fear that one day their lockdown drills will no longer be just drills. Almost 350 school shootings occurred in 2023 alone. The country is in a  full-blown public health crisis. As the bill progresses to the Senate floor, it’s important to understand the implications the outcome will have on free speech and government censorship.

To make your thoughts heard on the potential ban, you can find your state representative and their contact information by entering your address at: https://www.congress.gov/members/find-your-member

Adeesa is a senior Communications and Media Studies major at Pace University and Her Campus at Pace's Social Media Director :) She is responsible for overseeing the social media team and posting on our chapter's Instagram page detailing information about our weekly meetings, promoting our club events, the publication of articles, and engaging content for our club members and followers. As for article writing, her pieces tend to be more politically oriented. Adeesa enjoys spreading political awareness amongst her peers, and taking political issues that seem big and complex and making them easy to understand. Before joining the E-Board, Adeesa was the Instagram assistant at HCP for two years, and before that, was the Facebook assistant. In addition to Her Campus, Adeesa is a graphic designer for The Pace Press, Pace University's newspaper. She has been doing social media for four years now, since she was a junior in high school and promoting her Model UN team conferences. In her free time, Adeesa loves listening to music, watching rom-coms, and exploring New York. You can find her scrolling through TikTok, making (yet another) playlist, or at the nearest poke restaurant. If you need a poster designed or a friend to chat, Adeesa is your girl!