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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
Chris Matthews: Inspiring language learners at home and abroad
By Anna Kuntz, Senior Staff Writer • April 22, 2024
The best cafés to caffeinate and cram for finals
By Irene Castillo, Senior Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Editorial | Congress’ TikTok ban is so much more dangerous than you think

Supporters+of+TikTok+gather+at+the+Capitol+in+Washington%2C+as+the+House+passed+a+bill+that+would+lead+to+a+nationwide+ban+of+the+popular+video+app+if+its+China-based+owner+doesnt+sell+on+March+13.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Supporters of TikTok gather at the Capitol in Washington, as the House passed a bill that would lead to a nationwide ban of the popular video app if its China-based owner doesn’t sell on March 13.

The House of Representatives voted 352 to 65 on a bill that would effectively ban the Gen Z beloved app TikTok on March 13. The legislation, proposed by Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-WI, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-IL, , seeks to force ByteDance to sell the TikTok app to a US-approved company. If ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, fails to do so within a six month period, it will thus be illegal for app stores or other hosting companies to sell and upgrade the app in the U.S. While the bill is not an outright ban, it could become one due to the high price tag an app like TikTok would carry.

Governmental concern for the app stems from its alleged connections to the Chinese government. Many government officials are concerned that the Chinese government is pushing propaganda to American youth and that data being collected on the “Communist Party malware” is getting sold to Chinese companies. The longstanding concern about China’s involvement in the U.S. is nothing new, with Gallagher claiming it to be “a threat to our national security because it is owned by Bytedance, which does the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok contends that the government’s concerns are “baseless.” Around 60% of the company is owned by investors around the globe and much of its board is American.

While we can debate whether or not the TikTok ban actually has standing and if politicians have valid concerns for Chinese interference, the real focus should be on the law itself. Not only could a ban on TikTok be “the largest removal of speech in US history,” but the proposed legislation creates a dangerous precedent the United States government could use at any time to ban any app of its choosing. Sure, we can argue that the bill primarily sets itself up to ban TikTok, especially with Meta lobbying diligently for its removal, but the text of the bill tells a different story.

HR 7521, Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, is presented to the public as a ban on our beloved TikTok application. But it is so much more than that. The broad language of the act empowers the United States government to ban any foreign adversary-controlled application. This means TikTok, but also any app not owned by approved companies or nations that the government deems to be a threat, could be removed at its will. This could mean apps like WeChat and AliExpress are removed from U.S. app stores due to Chinese ownership. But other apps, even American owned, with intense ties to foreign adversaries could face pushback from the government. This includes Meta apps like Facebook and Instagram, but also Snapchat, Netflix or Google Maps if foreign investment or relations concerns come into play in the future.

Social media apps like TikTok are powerful organizational tools, especially in helping spread social movements. For example, during the height of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, Twitter, now known as X, was used extensively to organize and rally behind BLM. With the current global issues and other social movements spreading around the world, TikTok has been used as a tool to educate and advocate for these communities. While the rhetoric found on TikTok would most likely transition to a new platform if the app were to be banned, with the passing of HR 7521, who’s to say Congress won’t find a reason to ban that one, too?

The implications of the TikTok ban are far reaching, potentially allowing Congress to ban any application it deems as “foreign adversary-controlled.” While TikTok’s connection to the Chinese government has raised concerns about national security and data privacy, the broad language of the bill is even more concerning. This legislation not only threatens free speech and expression, but also raises questions about the government’s authority to regulate cyberspace, thus potentially limiting access to vital communication tools that do so much more than allow you to post your delicious meals or selfies with friends.

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