- The Chinese social network became a sensation among the younger generation from the moment it went public.
- Conservative sectors in the United States strongly believe that the platform is a “Trojan horse” of the Chinese Communist Party.
- The chances of the platform being banned in that country are high, raising concerns among free speech advocates.
The U.S. authorities could take a historic step regarding citizens’ access to social networks. In particular, the country’s most conservative political sectors are seeking a ban on the Chinese platform for short video clips, TikTok. Congressional Republicans are convinced that the application spies for Beijing.
The conservatives’ accusation against the ByteDance-owned social network is not new. During Donald Trump’s presidential administration, legislation made progress in neutralizing the social network’s influence. However, with the arrival of the Democratic Biden administration, the pressure dropped and the network continued to operate, albeit with much friction.
In any case, the platform is the most widely used among young people inside and outside the United States. Consequently, acting against it with a ban could generate many more problems than one might assume. Some portals, such as Yahoo Finance, explain that much more than an endless list of short videos of teenagers would be lost.
The cancellation of the social network would have serious consequences for content creators and for the advertising industry. It would even generate negative consequences for the political sectors that push for repressive measures against the platform.
TikTok ban: blessing for some and misfortune for others
If the U.S. authorities agree to ban TikTok, it would have all kinds of repercussions. For example, among the biggest beneficiaries would be large companies in the technology sector. Meta in particular, which has failed time and again to cope with the Chinese platform’s push, would have a clear path. Something similar can be said of other platforms such as Youtube or Snap, which were beaten by TikTok.
At the other end of the spectrum, the losers would be many. First of all, the content creators who receive their livelihood from entrepreneurship on the platform. These are millions of young people who broke away from traditional forms of employment and earn income from their cell phones. In this case, we are talking about a labor mass that currently defines the digital advertising directions of hundreds of companies.
“150 million people monthly use TikTok within the United States”
Precisely, companies that depend on advertising on the Asian social network would also be seriously affected. Although these companies, not having TikTok at their disposal, would migrate to other equivalent platforms, it must be kept in mind that the reach of the Chinese firm is irreplaceable. The inevitable result would be the loss of billions in advertising.
But the third group affected, often the most overlooked effect, is politicians sympathetic to the ban. In theory, banning TikTok would mean harming millions of young people who enjoy free speech by investing their bio-time watching videos. In that sense, these people will not forgive the political sectors that provoked this repression and in a short time they will pay for it.
As it can be noted, moving against the ByteDance dependent is one of the most delicate measures of the American State. The only real justification for such action is if there is irrefutable evidence that the firm represents a threat to U.S. national security. It is worth mentioning that the latter is debatable.
It is better to avoid the consequences
Considering the consequences that a ban on the social network could have for creators, companies and the careers of many politicians, the wisest thing to do would be to seek an agreement. This is the opinion of Paul Barret, who is deputy director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University (NYU). Consulted in the aforementioned portal, he expressed his concern about the worst-case scenario, i.e., a ban.
“My perspective is this: Hey, guys, find a solution here,” he said. “Why go back to the more forceful and destructive approach of crushing something? Don’t do it. Find a way to preserve it and move on,” he added.
The main accusation about the platform has to do with the alleged mishandling of people’s private data. In other words, the company behind TikTok would send the personal data of U.S. citizens to China. That would endanger the stability of the American nation, since it would allow the Chinese government to send personalized communist propaganda into American homes.
But the Chinese company denies that it is trafficking data to the Beijing authorities. They claim that it is a private company and, as such, is not an instrument of the communist state. As such, a ban on TikTok based on this assumption might not be very convincing for teenagers who use the platform to scroll through videos of their favorite trends.
On the other hand, Chinese propaganda is available on all social networks. It is unlikely that millions of young Americans who only want popularity, to make money and have a better life are willing to vote for the Communist Party of the United States influenced by propaganda that has been around for quite some time.
Is banning TikTok a threat to freedom of expression?
Freedom of expression is an issue that is taken very seriously in the United States and the European Union. Cases of violations are quickly detected by citizens, who are on the alert to pass the bill to the enforcing governments. Such is the case of the banning of Russian media in Western countries and the biased war propaganda in their own media.
Although the consequences of such a measure are not very evident now, they can be felt in the protests in France. In the mobilizations, large groups of people are calling for the normalization of relations with Moscow. Regardless of the stance towards the war in Ukraine, citizens know that the media ban is not a good alternative.
Something similar happens in the case of TikTok, but the impact would be much greater given that it affects the finances of millions of people in the United States. At the same time, it counts as a repulsive violation of the First Amendment on which the pillars of freedom of thought and opinion in that country rest.
According to experts, annulling the platform by political decision is a way of sanctioning freedom of expression. Although it may seem banal, this concept also includes teenage challenges, dances and the infallible videos of pets getting into mischief. “It’s a very valuable place for expression and losing it would be a shame,” Barret says, referring to the attempted banning of TikTok.
“Even the silly freedom of expression of 10 seconds of dancing has some value,” the specialist stressed.
There are those who consider that violating the First Amendment to avoid being like China accelerates the similarities with the CCP. “The Supreme Court has recognized that Americans have the right to access the social media platforms of their choice, and also to receive information from abroad,” asserts Jameel Jaffer, CEO of Knight First Amendment.
The TikTok threat: reality or conspiracy theory?
Taking TikTok out of the game must be underpinned by a real threat to U.S. security. Jaffer believes that civil libertarian issues cannot be taken lightly. In other words, this can be interpreted to mean that banning the platform without hard evidence could set a dangerous precedent for free speech.
From this arises the inevitable question: is TikTok a real threat or is it a whim to annihilate anything coming out of China? The lawmakers’ claim is that the platform is a tool of Beijing to collect private data and promote communist propaganda.
However, there are indications that this is ideological rhetoric to take a serious competitor in the technology market out of the game. For example, in 2020, the CIA claimed that it had found no evidence that the app engaged in espionage practices. The company also claims that it no longer follows policies to censor content that annoys the Chinese authorities.
But cases of espionage, although not a fully proven policy, also exist. One of the most striking ones has to do with a Forbes publication in which it is stated that company employees spied on journalists to determine the focus of internal information leaks. Although the company says that these employees acted on their own and were fired, the authorities are conducting an investigation.
Either way, TikTok’s alleged threat may be subject to interpretation, so banning the app would have consequences. Congressmen seem determined and so far there are few voices calling for restraint.
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