Platform faces U.S. ban if unable to resolve threats

Congress leans toward increasing limits on what can and cannot be posted in order to protect the country’s private information.

TikTok went to court on March 23 as they try to prove that users’ information is not being given to the Chinese government. TikTok, run by its parent company, ByteDance, is based in China. There are growing concerns in the U.S. that ByteDance could share information with the Chinese government or use the platform to publicize misinformation that would benefit China.

The bigger issue, however, involves national security risks overall. As with all social media platforms, people can post what they want. All U.S. citizens have their First Amendment right to free speech, in which the government will not infringe upon citizens’ rights to make public comments, and as long as it doesn’t violate any other individual contracts or positions, there are no limits to what people can say online.

The risk of information being leaked that puts our national security in danger has always been there, but since TikTok is owned by a company based in China, a country that the U.S. considers a direct adversary, the concerns of the U.S. government are even greater. 

Another genuinely worrying thought is that these companies know a lot about their users. When they travel, who their friends are, what they like and any other personal information we decide to publicize, according to a March 23 New York Times article. Although risky in anyone’s hands, giving this sort of information to any other country’s government could have detrimental consequences for the U.S.

China’s Foreign Ministry has gone on to accuse the United States of spreading false information about these potential security risks after they saw a report in the Wall Street Journal that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. was threatening to ban the app unless Chinese companies lost their majority stake. According to a March 16 AP News article, the Chinese government passed a law in 2017 that requires companies to give the government any information that they believe is relevant to their national security. Even though there is no proof of this happening, many concerns were raised. This heightened in December 2022 when ByteDance fired four employees who searched for data about U.S. journalists for Buzzfeed in attempts to find the source of a leaked report.

After hearing statements from both sides, Congress decided that there are only two feasible solutions to protect U.S. citizens: banning TikTok altogether or buying out ByteDance, according to a March 24 Axios article. The parent company is already 60 percent owned by outside investors, many of which are U.S. companies. As of now, TikTok’s estimated value is up to $50 billion, so a buyer would only need $10 billion to buy out the founders, which would give them the majority vote

With the introduction of the RESTRICT Act, a new bill that allows the government to review and prohibit certain transactions, the government would have the power to completely control what can be posted. By allowing them to also review “for other purposes,” the government is not defining their control, creating uncertainty regarding what is and isn’t allowed. This broad description allows Congress to make their own rules as they go.

Members of Congress grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew for more than five hours during the March 23 hearing, with the executive’s main line of defense being that the social media platform has become a central facet of more than 150 million Americans – but critics say that the decision might actually strengthen lawmakers’ arguments that the app poses a serious threat to national security. As sentiment for a national ban on TikTok grows, politicians will continue to debate the legality and ethics of such a move.

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