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TikTok ban could be ‘slippery slope,’ says expert

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

TikTok, the popular social media platform could soon be banned in the U.S. The China-based parent company, ByteDance, has once again attracted concerns of national security and foreign influence from U.S. officials. 

On March 13, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the bill with a vote of 352-65. The bill, called Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, was passed through the Energy and Commerce Committee by a 50-0 vote earlier this month. 

The legislation requires TikTok to either divest from ByteDance or be banned nationwide. Officials in Congress cited concerns about TikTok’s influence and security risks and wants the app to be sold to another entity altogether, political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said. 

“Congress is worried that the app is tracking individual movements and potentially raises security risks for people using it,” Rottinghaus said. 

Despite President Joe Biden stating he would sign the bill if it gets to his desk, Biden’s 2024 re-election campaign recently joined TikTok.  According to Rottinghaus, the legislation poses a potential political risk to the administration’s re-election bid. 

“I think there’s a political risk for the President in signing a bill that would ban TikTok. It’s a very popular entity and it’s always dicey to take peoples privileges and rights away, especially in the election year,” Rottinghaus said.

In 2020, former President Donald Trump attempted to ban the app through an executive order. However, courts blocked the move after TikTok sued. 

If the bill is passed, ByteDance would have 180 days to find another buyer for TikTok before the app is effectively banned. Although the sale could be a complicated process. 

Some view the potential ban as a product of a generational disconnect. While members of Congress have data from intelligence services, young staffers and lobbyists who are talking to them, they might not be fully familiar with apps like TikTok, Rottinghaus said.

“This is a real time ramification for not electing younger people to Congress. That is, Congress is less in touch with a lot of the newer technological changes than they have been in the past, and those limitations will be on full display when they make decisions that might be kind of less than fully informed,” Rottinghaus said. 

The bill could be challenged on the grounds of restricting free speech. According to The Washington Post, a company spokesperson said that the bill would strip 170 million Americans of their right to free expression. 

For media production senior Hannah Bittick, the legislation is yet another example of misplaced priorities within the U.S. House of Representatives. 

“Instead of banning a social media app, how about instead they turn all the focus on the violations of human rights in states,” Bittick said. “All the harmful abortion bans or anti-trans and other anti LGBTQ laws. How about they focus on all the school shootings instead?” 

While divestment from ByteDance could mean selling the app to a U.S.-based company, the bill mandates a “qualified divestiture” as something only the president can determine. The bill would also allow the president to create a process to designate certain social media apps “subject to the control of a foreign adversary,” leaving room for other apps to be targeted as well. 

“The fear is that there’s a slippery slope, where if you ban one social media app for some particular reason, it could cascade into other kinds of bans,” Rottinghaus said. 

This bill also takes away jobs from people who make an income through the app. Bittick, like many others, makes an income through TikTok and said that the bill also takes away jobs from people who make an income through the app.

“They’re taking away freedom of speech from millions of users on the app.  They are also taking away jobs from people that make income on the app, myself included,” Bittick said. “Not only influencers but small businesses and companies as well.”

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