Civil Discourse Op-Ed: Banning TikTok

The Civil Discourse program, facilitated by Communications professor Mark Urista, is continuing their mission of exploring relevant and potentially polarizing topics. The latest? TikTok and if it should be banned. Is the popular technology a threat to privacy? Does its positive influences outweigh its negative ones? What about the revenue the app provides? Would banning lead to job loss? The Civil Discourse takes a deep dive into both sides of this hot topic.

TikTok Should Be Banned

Authors: Damoni Wright, Eagle Hunt, Mackenzie Witnauer and The Civil Discourse Program

China’s attempts to spy on Americans have brought up serious concerns about privacy. While many people point to the Chinese “weather balloon” that was recently shot down by the U.S. Airforce on Feb 4, a bigger threat is slipping under the radar: TikTok. 

TikTok’s threat to our privacy is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.  The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) appears to have a significant connection with the app. This is concerning because TikTok has a parent company named ByteDance that can collect data from users and share it with the CCP.  The FBI has established that this collection of data is a threat to our nation’s economic and national security.  

Additionally, users’ experiences with TikTok are different in China compared to the rest of the world. It is common knowledge that China’s version of TikTok, DouYin, is heavily regulated and regularly promotes educational and nationalistic content. In a recent 60 Minutes episode, a crucial point is made: China’s version of the app is the equivalent of spinach, but they ship out opium to the rest of the world. This is significant because it speaks to how China views the app; they know it can cause damage. TikTok is a playground for dangerous trends that put users’ physical and mental health at risk. One key aspect of TikTok is the participation in “trends.” These trends encourage kids to do things such as lick ice cream at the supermarket and put the container back in the freezer or climb stacked milk crates only to fall to their demise. It’s important to note, once again, that the app has different content in China compared to other countries like the USA. As Co-founder of the CHT (Center for Humane Technology), Tristan Harris, stated in his 60 Minutes interview, “it’s almost like [Chinese company Bytedance] recognizes that technology’s influencing kids’ development.” So in China, users are being shown home experiments, educational videos, and videos that encourage a sense of nationalism while here in the states we have a much more chaotic, misinformed, and misguided pool of content.  
It’s also important to mention censorship by TikTok.  The app at times has censored content critical to the CCP, including videos about Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghur ethnic group and the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests.  This is an affront to a free society like the USA which values transparency and free expression.  Three years ago a US teenager made a TikTok video about the detention of Uyghur Muslims in China that went viral. Shortly afterward, her account was blocked by ByteDance.  This kind of retaliatory censorship should never be allowed in our country.

TikTok should be banned in the United States. The app threatens our privacy and constitutional liberties. It also is a national security threat. For those who enjoy TikTok, there are plenty of alternatives that can take its place.  Currently, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is aiming to enact a ban.  We should root for them to succeed.

TikTok Should Not Be Banned

Authors: Cheyanne Rider, Eliana Ortega and The Civil Discourse Program

TikTok is an app that has more than 1 billion users worldwide and over 140 million American users. It is an incredibly successful platform that has not only provided entertainment to millions of Americans, but also a source of revenue. If a user amasses a following of 10k users and 100k views within 30 days, they can earn money from the company’s ‘creator fund.’ This isn’t the intent of the majority of users, but in today’s world, a video can go viral and turn anyone into an overnight sensation. For users like Elyse Meyers, this can turn into merchandise opportunities, advertisement deals, podcasts, and more. If TikTok were to be banned, these folks would lose a source of income and advertising. A friend of Cheyanne’s experienced this recently. She had a following of 12k and was not only making money from her views but was also receiving contacts and bookings on her photography business page as a direct result of her TikTok videos. Because of a very strict interpretation of the community guidelines and rules, her account was banned and she lost all of her followers, thousands of dollars, and an advertising partnership with a major company. While she is in the process of appealing this decision, if there was an all-out ban on the app, she would be one of many suffering this type of loss.

Other countries have banned TikTok only to either rescind the ban or have several clones emerge. This is what would happen in the United States as well. Apps like Instagram have already moved to be more video-based applications. With new apps and platforms coming out every day, another one would surely take TikTok’s place but the creators would have to start from scratch to rebuild their followings.  

The issue of security isn’t unique to TikTok and other Chinese-based apps. Security is an issue with everything that is uploaded to the internet. Every app, website, Google search, etc. has the ability to be tracked, stored, and or sold. This is stated in the terms and conditions section that most users agree to without reading. Since 2020 TikTok has made strides in easing the minds of Americans worried about foreign data monitoring. Including only storing US user data in Virginia and Singapore instead of Beijing where the parent company is headquartered. TikTok has created a team to work directly with US data security and continues to make improvements to parental controls and security regularly.  A new platform may not have a similar policy or commitment to working in compliance with US data security.
Banning TikTok will not save US citizens from being monitored. It will open the door to new ways of being monitored while disrupting the income of millions of creators. A ban also threatens other civil liberties, particularly our rights to free expression and free association.  As the ACLU recently stated, a TikTok ban “could cut off the flow of information, art, and communication that social media provides, interfering with communities and connections users in the United States have with each other and with people around the world. This interference with freedom of expression and association violates the First Amendment.” For all of these reasons, TikTok should not be banned.

Image by storyset on Freepik

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