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TikTok and WeChat app to face ban
TikTok and WeChat app to face ban

Will US House Ban TikTok 2024

The US House has passed a bill that could ban TikTok.

  • The Biden administration is scared of foreign influence, and of China gathering data on US citizens.
  • The ban will probably never happen.

Unless TikTok sells off its US app, it will be banned in the US, the House voted Wednesday, with a raft of consequences for both users and creators.

Although the bill still has to make it through the Senate, President Biden has already said he will sign it into law if it passes. But will the US government really ban TikTok? Or is this a power move, designed to force Chinese owner ByteDance to relinquish its foreign influence over millions of US citizens?

“The goal is to shut TikTok down as a Chinese trojan horse. This view says TikTok offers a home for short videos and entertainment for millions but uses the device holding the app to collect personal information for the Chinese government,” Gregg Scott, a principal technical account manager at Redhat and an author, told Lifewire via email.

Propaganda Machine
The threat of TikTok is twofold, according to this way of seeing it, and both of the dangers are directly caused by it being a Chinese-owned-and-operated service.

“The two concerns about TikTok are that (a) the Chinese government is using it to surveil Americans; and (b) that it serves as a powerful propaganda vehicle for the PRC,” writes technology pundit John Gruber on his Daring Fireball blog.

Both of these are legitimate worries. If social media and micropublishing sites like Instagram and Facebook have taught us anything, it’s that personal data is extremely valuable, and that these companies will stop at almost nothing to gather more and more of it. The US and China are clearly at odds, so the ability for China—via ByteDance—to amass data on US citizens, and to use that data to better target political messages, is obviously a threat.

The Biden administration must also be concerned about the forthcoming presidential election, where TikTok could influence opinion toward whatever result the Chinese think is more destabilizing. The Chinese government may or may not have control over TikTok, but TikTok is most certainly an excellent platform for influencing public opinion, as it did with pro-Palestinian videos last year.

Even so, banning TikTok isn’t really a viable option.

Ban Hammer
TikTok is not just a home to memes and dances. Many independent US businesses are built on using it to reach an audience and a market. And even if you did want to ban TikTok, could you?

“Banning TikTok is a knee-jerk reaction and impractical. TikTok is a website and the app is just a front-end for the website. Even if the government does ban TikTok from app stores, it will not keep TikTok off of American devices. People will just use a browser to go to the TikTok website, says Scott. “A TikTok ban will hurt content creators who make money from that platform.”

It’s also tricky for the US government to ban a publisher, thanks to that pesky First Amendment, as the American Civil Liberties Union has already pointed out. And last year, a federal judge barred the state of Montana from banning TikTok.

The move, then, seems to be to force ByteDance to divest the US division of its business, placing it outside the reach of the Chinese government, while keeping the good parts intact, as long as that magical TikTok algorithm, which keeps everybody watching, comes along for the ride.

But if the Biden administration is serious about shaping public opinion, then this really seems like a weird way to go about it.

“Dems seem dead set on losing the young vote, refusing to stop the genocide in Gaza and now threatening to ban TikTok,” publisher, Stanford law fellow and former Wired editor Ryan Singel writes on Mastodon. “Going after TikTok doesn’t make you look tough. It makes you look out of touch.”

All of this is, so far, speculation. The legislation still has to make it through the Senate before Biden can sign it into law, and presumably, that’s when we’ll start hearing about which non-Chinese companies are interested in buying TikTok. Who knows? Maybe Elon Musk will pitch in, and turn the US TikTok into another Twitter-style success story.

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