TikTok is one of the most popular social media applications today in the world. Yet, its origins in China have American lawmakers on edge concerns about data collection.
The Pew Research Center has determined that the number of adults using TikTok has nearly tripled in the past year, growing from 3% to about 10%. They also reported that adults regularly get their news from the social media platform.
Ever since Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, appeared before the Senate in 2018, Americans have been more aware how companies collect personal data to sell to advertisers. Legislation has passed to help consumers better understand where their data is going, and to give them more control over their data.
However, these laws do not apply overseas. China and the U.S. have had a tumultuous relationship as of late, especially as China inches toward invading neighboring nations and stifling protests in Hong Kong. China’s ideas of freedom wildly differ from the U.S., which is why legislators are alarmed that the nation could be stealing data, especially in an attempt to gain information on the U.S.
TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, appeared in court in March and was bombarded with questions from lawmakers. Chew explained that there is a plan and structure in place that is like a “firewall” to prevent China from being able to access American data. Chew also explained that despite being owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based corporate owner that must answer to Chinese law, TikTok has no intention of infringing on Americans’ freedom.
“The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel,” Chew wrote in a testimony that was later released by the House committee.
The reasoning behind this is that if the data is kept on American soil, China has no legislation to be able to access said data.
This fight to ban TikTok has sent users into a frenzy. Some creators even rely on the application as a source of income, similar to those who use YouTube as a platform of work. It has had some Americans question their freedom of speech: If TikTok is banned, an avenue of speech, what other forms or platforms may be next on the chopping block?
Gina Raimondo, U.S. secretary of commerce, told Bloomberg, “The politician in me thinks you’re gonna literally lose every voter under 35, forever.”
Legislators are also panicked in relation to how TikTok may influence future generations, as most young people use the application. Chew has stressed that ByteDance and TikTok have no intention of swaying the future generations one way or another.
“TikTok will remain a platform for free expression and will not be manipulated by any government,” Chew wrote in his statement. “We will keep safety — particularly for teenagers — a top priority.”
However, a ban has already taken place. Montana already has banned TikTok on any and all government-issued and government-owned devices. While not federal, as that is unlikely, the state of Montana has passed a bill to be potentially signed by the Governor Greg Gianforte that would ban the application. If signed, the ban will take effect in January.
There has been pushback to the bill, with opposition claiming that it is censorship. TikTok has hinted at legal pushback against the bill, but has not clearly stated one way or the other if there are plans to sue.
If TikTok is to be banned, then there are no limits on what other forms of speech can be taken away next. There is a future where Twitter is banned and instead of sending out a small thought you have to fight Parler and their terms of service instead, which will send the U.S. into an echo chamber.