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Time’s up for TikTok in the U.S

Cover Image by Inside Creative House on istockphoto.com

March 14th, 2024


On Wednesday, March 13th, the U.S House of Representative passed a bill banning TikTok from American app stores. The bill now must pass through the Senate before being signed into law by the President of the United States. The bill comes after fears of TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, using American’s data against them. The bill would not only change social media in the U.S. but send a message about the fears of the American Government. Today, we'll go over what the ban might mean and whether it is an actual threat. Either way, the social media world in America is about to change for the better or worse. 


First, TikTok is a social media company owned by Chinese media company, ByteDance. ByteDance is a social media company founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming and Rubo Liang. The company was made to house media outlets from social media to news. The company owns many social media sites in Asia and beyond. Deanna Ting for Digiday.com said, “ The company has an evaluation of $78 billion. They have gained over $7 billion in revenue for the first half of 2019. Baidu has a market cap of $36.6 billion, while Alibaba has a market cap of $458.7 billion and Tencent has a market cap of $384.5 billion. Google’s market cap is $874.5 billion,” (Ting). 


This bill has been a long time coming. It was only 2 years ago that ByteDance admitted to surveying American users in the past. This did not sit well with many politicians describing a fear of what social media companies do with such information. Many politicians questioned how the data collection could be used to harm the American public and pose a threat to the American government. The CEO eventually had to explain to the U.S Congress why the company is not a threat to American users in 2023. Since the scandal, politicians in Washington D.C have been trying to pass a bill banning the popular social media app. All this history leads up to the problems TikTok has today in the U.S. in early 2024.


Fast forward to 2024, the U.S House of Representatives have passed a bill that could potentially ban the app from American users. According to Bobby Allen from NPR, “ The bill says that ByteDance has six months to find a buyer for TikTok that doesn’t pose a serious threat to American Democracy. If the company does not sell the app in six months, it will be illegal for app stores and web-hosting companies to offer TikTok if it still is under the control of a "foreign adversary” “(Allen). The bill will make it so no app store in America can offer the free TikTok app. There is no choice for Americans who already have the app downloaded onto their phone. The lack of attention towards current users leaves a hole in the plans to ban TikTok from American users. 


The ban is much easier said than done. Complications with few willing buyers to freedom of speech, the bill would be difficult to enforce. Matt O’Brien for the Associated Press explains, “The bill is in support of banning TikTok in the U.S. It is an exception if there’s an owner from a non-hostile country. That happens when the U.S. president finds in a thorough process that TikTok is “no longer being controlled by an adversary,” according to the bill” (O’Brien). The article explains a complication with enforcing the bill. It would have to pass a specific set of requirements to be broken or enacted. It leaves a lot of power to the President of the United States to figure out the danger of the app. 


This is not the only problem with enforcement. Remember the loophole for American users who already have the app? Well, it is a significant loophole in the bill’s restriction. Rebecca Klar for The Hill said, “New users would be easier to implement if downloads are blocked from  app stores. For the millions of users who already have the app, it’s more complicated. “It’s not known how they stop people who already have the app,” said Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. People can still find ways around to access TikTok as they do in other countries…” (Klar). The article mentions a simple truth that we can’t stop people who have a will and a way to use the app even when it is not allowed in the U.S. 


Lastly, we need to address the threat. American politicians have concluded. TikTok poses a national security threat. After ByteDance admitted to collecting data, people became worried about what that meant. Politicians explained a fear of using collected data to influence specific TikTok users and the release of confidential information. People are also worried about the algorithm of TikTok designed for addiction. For example, Senate Intel Chief, Mark Warner was quoted in Jacob Helberg’s article in The National Interest. Helberg said, ““TikTok feeds into these terrible ideas. They have an algorithm that amplifies fringe and extremist positions,” said Senate Intel Chief Mark Warner” (Helberg). Mark Warner’s words seem over-generalized to say the least.


The only problem is, there is no proof of such extremism on TikTok. The algorithm on TikTok is individually decided by what the user reacts positively towards. The app starts an account by asking you what your favorite topics are. You can even block your account from seeing certain topics. There is also little proof that I have found to show how TikTok has manipulated the political views of its American users. While TikTok users can find extremist views on the app, the user can just as easily reject the video’s views and decide to block similar content from their TikTok home screen. Their home screen is also decided on the kinds of videos that the user reacts positively to and the topics that they like.


There are already problems being found before the bill has even been signed into law. Problems with implementing the law and with enforcing its far-reaching implications are a problem. The bill seemingly does not address Americans who already have TikTok and plan to continue using the app. On top of weak claims of indoctrination, the TikTok ban seems a thin veiled attempt at control. While there is a convincing case to call TikTok a security risk, it has yet to be seen how the popular app is harmful beyond security. The outcome of this bill will show what kind of risk TikTok poses to the American people and how they will respond.


This article was edited by Aadrita Halder.

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