Last Updated on 2023-03-29 , 10:33 am
TikTok has been a leading social media platform ever since its release, with companies and individuals alike turning to it for a shot at fame and fortune.
It’s no surprise that the United States’ desire to ban the app is a controversial decision—people stand to lose their livelihoods if it is entirely banned.
So, even amidst people swooning over Singaporean CEO Chew Shou Zi, it’s important to take a step back from the TikTok thirst culture to understand exactly why it could potentially be banned in the US.
History of the Ban
In case you’ve been living under a rock, TikTok is a short-form video hosting platform with around 1 billion users worldwide, and 150 million in the United States.
India actually banned the app in mid-2020 before the US government imposed the ban on TikTok on federal devices on 27 February.
They didn’t just ban TikTok— they banned 58 other Chinese-based companies like WeChat, QQ and Weibo in light of a geopolitical dispute with China.
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Canada, France, New Zealand and a few more countries have also taken up the TikTok ban on all government devices. In the US, TikTok has been banned on devices used by the military for three years, and several states have imposed a ban on it since November last year.
On 1 March 2023, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee came out with a bill granting President Joe Biden the authority to ban TikTok. This escalated into TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi’s testimony before Congress in defence of the app.
Why the Ban?
But why is TikTok even being banned in the first place?
The shortest answer, unsurprisingly, is China.
US and China have had increasingly slippery relations, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong weighing in on the tension just recently on 25 March, saying that the world “cannot afford a conflict” between the two countries.
The crux of this conflict is that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in China. Governments in the West see this as a threat to national security, citing that Chinese law may force Bytedance to hand over user data to the Chinese government, allowing it to spy on American people.
Additionally, politicians expressed that they feared the Chinese government would push pro-China narratives or misinformation through its algorithm to impressionable youth on the app.
In Congress, though, CEO Chew repeatedly denied that TikTok had ever handed over user data to China, and reiterated that it would not do so even if asked.
“American data is stored on American soil by an American company, overseen by American personnel,” he said, citing TikTok’s new Project Texas plan that will eradicate Chinese engineer access to TikTok user data.
He also denied TikTok’s ties to China, saying that the company was based in Singapore and Los Angeles. He added that Bytedance, despite being based in China, was not owned or controlled by the Chinese government.
Concerning data collection, Chew said that no health data is collected, and neither is precise GPS data.
The six-hour hearing has been the subject of ridicule on the internet because of a concerning number of ignorant questions. This one about Wi-Fi went viral, where Republican lawmaker Richard Hudson seemingly did not understand how Wi-Fi worked:
Another Republican, Dan Creshaw, also accused Chew of having to cooperate with the Chinese government when called upon, by virtue of living in China, and said that residents of the country were “bound to secrecy and that would include you”.
Chew replied to him by stating that he was, in fact, Singaporean.
Can The US Ban TikTok?
Despite all this discussion, US citizens are known for greatly valuing individual freedom of speech, and the ban might negatively impact that.
Popular TikTokers also stand to lose their livelihoods if the platform is banned.
Protests and rallies have popped up in response to this, with people holding signs defending the app outside the Capital.
The Constitution’s First Amendment protects free speech, and because of this, experts are worried that a ban might be unconstitutional.
Additionally, the logistics of a nationwide ban are challenging to navigate—even if the app is forcibly removed from app stores, determined users would be able to access it using riskier methods that might be even more counterproductive to national security. If you’ve ever pirated anything, even movies, you’ll know about that myriad of scam popups that look like they’ll infect your device.
The last thing left to wonder is if a ban would even do any good—reportedly, the Chinese government already has data on at least 80% of the US population, through long-term data collection by various means.
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