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The proposed “TikTok ban” and its dangerous consequences

Updated: Apr 10

Tyler Jackman

Editor-in-Chief


In today’s age of rampant political division, there’s hardly any issue that the two major political parties can agree on. Enter TikTok, where a bill forcing ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, to divest its assets or cease its activities in the United States sailed through the House of Representatives.


H.R. 7521, otherwise known as the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” (PAFACA), passed through the House in a bipartisan 352-65 vote, but awaits confirmation by the Senate before reaching President Biden’s desk. Biden has signaled his support for the bill, as political fervor towards taking action on ByteDance has hit an all time high in the wake of perceived national security threats from the Chinese Communist Party. 


Politicians from both major parties, in pursuing this crusade against the popular viral-video hitmaker app, have forgotten one important thing. They lack the support of the American people. Is it because TikTok is a beloved platform for over 1 billion users? Are the American people exhausted of Cold War-era posturing? Perhaps, like many bills that see confusingly bipartisan support, the devil is in the details.


Photo by Cottonbro Studio via Pexels

Proponents of PAFACA argue that more than anything, it’s a bill designed to protect the data of US citizens. That’s one thing that can be agreed on; data protection laws in the US are paltry compared to frameworks seen overseas, like the GDPR of the European Union. So, where are the federal data protection frameworks? They’re not here, and it’s no secret why. American social media companies, such as Meta and X, rely on data scraping and selling to remain profitable, and this is not a data protection bill. That’s simply the tagline to sell it to the American people; this is instead a bill designed to punish ByteDance for being out of the US government’s purview.


Now, it’s not unreasonable to be concerned about foreign governments and their access to our personal data. It’s equally reasonable, however, to question how this bill will protect us from that. The text of the bill fails to answer that question in any manner.


PAFACA will not only force ByteDance to divest its assets (which will almost ensure the end of TikTok in the US), but gives the president the ability to blanket ban any social media platform “under the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary” or that will “pose a significant threat to the national security of the United States.” If that sounds familiar, that would be the echoes of the PATRIOT Act’s justification, the widely unpopular bill seen as the greatest legislative act against civil liberties of its time. 


Even if President Biden solely attacks TikTok upon the bill’s signage as law, it leaves the glaring opportunity of abuse by future presidents. Let us not forget that in the upcoming US presidential election, former President Donald Trump carries a very slight lead over Biden in national polling. Trump, a known antagonist against free speech and mass media, has recently defended ByteDance while maligning Meta and news organizations as “enemies of the people.” Trump backed by the power of PAFACA would have much greater power in exercising his influence on media in the country.


The concerns over TikTok and its relations to data privacy are not unfounded. PAFACA, however, is not only a rushed bill but a dangerous one that punishes the American people in the quest to punish the Chinese government. If lawmakers truly cared about the data privacy of Americans, they would bipartisanly pursue a federal framework that protects all Americans and applies to Meta, X, and TikTok alike. Instead, they are once again pursuing a blind power grab in the name of national security, and the American people are not falling for it.

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