Since its introduction to the US in 2018, TikTok has been preventing for its proper to exist. First, the corporate struggled to persuade the general public that it wasn’t only for pre-teens making cringey memes; then it needed to make the case that it wasn’t chargeable for the platform’s rampant misinformation (or cultural appropriation … or pro-anorexia content … or potentially deadly trends … or general creepiness, and many others). However largely, and particularly over the previous three years, TikTok has been fighting against increased scrutiny from US lawmakers about its ties to the Chinese language authorities by way of its China-based father or mother firm, ByteDance.
On March 1, the US Home International Affairs Committee voted to offer President Biden the facility to ban TikTok. However banning TikTok isn’t so simple as flipping a change and deleting the app from each American’s telephone. It’s a complex knot of technical and political decisions that might have penalties for US-China relations, for the cottage business of influencers that has blossomed over the previous 5 years, and for tradition at giant. The entire thing may be overblown.
The factor is, no person actually is aware of if a TikTok ban, nevertheless broad or all-encompassing, will even occur in any respect or how it might work if it did. It’s been three years for the reason that US authorities has significantly begun contemplating the chance, however the future stays simply as murky as ever. Right here’s what we all know to date.
1. Do politicians even use TikTok? Do they know the way it works or what they’re attempting to ban?
Among the many challenges lawmakers face in attempting to ban TikTok outright is a public relations drawback. People already assume their authorities leaders are too previous, ill-equipped to take care of trendy tech, and usually out of contact. A form of custom has even emerged every time Congress tries to do oversight of Huge Tech: A committee will convene a listening to, tech CEOs will present up, after which lawmakers make fools of themselves by asking questions that reveal how little they know concerning the platforms they’re attempting to rein in.
Congress has by no means heard from TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, in a public committee listening to earlier than, however representatives will get their likelihood this month. Not like with lots of the American social media corporations they’ve scrutinized earlier than, few members of Congress have intensive expertise with TikTok. Few use it for marketing campaign functions, and even fewer use it for official functions. Although at the least a number of dozen members have some form of account, most don’t have large followings. There are some notable exceptions: Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Reps. Katie Porter of California, Jeff Jackson of North Carolina, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota use it ceaselessly for official and marketing campaign causes and have large followings, whereas Sens. Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Ed Markey of Massachusetts are inactive on it after utilizing it extensively throughout their campaigns in 2020 and 2021. —Christian Paz
2. Who’s behind these efforts? Who’s attempting to ban TikTok or attempting to impose restrictions?
Whereas TikTok doesn’t have vocal defenders in Congress, it does have an extended checklist of vocal antagonists from throughout the nation, who span occasion and ideological traces in each the Senate and the Home.
The main Republicans hoping to ban TikTok are Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, who’s the brand new chairman of the Home choose committee on competitors with China. All three have launched some form of laws trying to ban the app or pressure its father or mother firm ByteDance to promote the platform to an American firm. Many extra Republicans in each chambers who’re critics of China, like Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, endorse some form of more durable restriction on the app.
Unbiased Sen. Angus King of Maine has additionally joined Rubio in introducing laws that may ban the app.
Democrats are much less united of their opposition to the platform. Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Michael Bennet of Colorado are two vocal skeptics. Bennet has referred to as for Apple and Google to remove the app from their app stores, whereas Warner needs stronger guardrails for tech corporations that may ban a “category of applications” as an alternative of a single app (that’s the identical place Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is taking). Within the Home, Gallagher’s Democratic counterpart, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, has additionally referred to as for a ban or tougher restrictions, although he doesn’t think a ban will happen this year. —Christian Paz
3. What’s the relationship between TikTok and the Chinese language authorities? Have they got customers’ data?
When you ask TikTok, the corporate will inform you there is no such thing as a relationship and that it has not and wouldn’t give US person information to the Chinese language authorities.
However TikTok is owned by ByteDance, an organization based mostly in Beijing that’s topic to Chinese language legal guidelines. These legal guidelines compel companies to help the federal government every time it asks, which many consider would pressure ByteDance to offer the Chinese language authorities any person information it has entry to every time it asks for it. Or it could possibly be ordered to push sure sorts of content material, like propaganda or disinformation, on American customers.
We don’t know if this has truly occurred at this level. We solely know that it may, assuming ByteDance even has entry to TikTok’s US person information and algorithms. TikTok has been working hard to persuade everybody that it has protections in place that wall off US person information from ByteDance and, by extension, the Chinese language authorities. —Sara Morrison
4. What occurs to folks whose earnings comes from TikTok? If there’s a ban, is it even potential for creators to search out related success on Reels or Shorts or different platforms?
Most individuals who’ve counted on TikTok as their predominant income have lengthy been ready for a potential ban. Fifteen years into the influencer business, it’s previous hat that, finally, social media platforms will betray their most loyal customers in a technique or one other. Plus, after President Trump tried a ban in the summertime of 2020, many established TikTokers diversified their on-line presence by focusing extra of their efforts on different platforms like Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts.
That doesn’t imply that shedding TikTok gained’t harm influencers. No other social platform is quite as good as TikTok at turning a very unknown individual or model into a world celebrity, due to its emphasis on discovery versus holding folks updated on the customers they already comply with. Which signifies that with out TikTok, it’ll be far harder for aspiring influencers to see the form of in a single day success loved by OG TikTokers.
The excellent news is that there’s seemingly extra money to be made on different platforms, particularly Instagram Reels. Creators can sometimes make tens of thousands of dollars per month from Instagram’s creator fund, which rewards customers with cash based mostly on the variety of views their movies get. Instagram can also be seen as a safer, extra predictable platform for influencers of their dealings with manufacturers, which may use an influencer’s earlier metrics to set a good charge for the work. (It’s a unique story on TikTok, the place even a submit by somebody with tens of millions of followers may get buried by the algorithm, and it’s much less evident that previous success will proceed sooner or later.) —Rebecca Jennings
5. What does the TikTok ban appear to be to me, the person? Am I going to get arrested for utilizing TikTok?
Virtually actually not. The probably means a ban would occur could be by an executive order that cites nationwide safety grounds to forbid enterprise transactions with TikTok. These transactions would seemingly be outlined as providers that facilitate the app’s operations and distribution. Which implies you might need a a lot more durable time discovering and utilizing TikTok, however you gained’t go to jail in the event you do. —Sara Morrison
6. How is it enforced? What does the TikTok ban appear to be to the App Retailer and different companies?
The probably path — and the one which lawmakers have zeroed in on — is utilizing the Worldwide Emergency Financial Powers Act, which provides the president broader powers than he in any other case has. President Trump used this when he tried to ban TikTok in 2020, and lawmakers have since introduced TikTok-banning payments that primarily name for the present president to attempt once more, however this time with extra measures in place that may keep away from the court docket battles that stalled Trump’s try.
Trump’s ban try does give us some steerage on what such a ban would appear to be, nevertheless. The Trump administration spelled out some examples of banned transactions, together with app shops not being allowed to hold it and web internet hosting providers not being allowed to host it. If in case you have an iPhone, it’s exceedingly tough to get a local app in your telephone that isn’t allowed in Apple’s App Retailer — or to get updates for that app in the event you downloaded it earlier than this hypothetical ban got here down. It’s additionally conceivable that corporations could be prohibited from promoting on the app and content material creators wouldn’t have the ability to use TikTok’s monetization instruments.
There are appreciable civil and felony penalties for violating the IEEPA. Don’t count on Apple or Google or Mr. Beast to take action. —Sara Morrison
7. On what grounds would TikTok be reinstated? Are there any modifications large enough that may make it “secure” within the eyes of the US authorities?
TikTok is already trying to make these modifications to persuade a multi-agency government panel that it may function within the US with out being a nationwide safety danger. If that panel, referred to as the Committee on International Investments in the USA (CFIUS), can’t attain an settlement with TikTok, then it’s uncertain there’s something extra TikTok can do.
Effectively, there’s one factor: If ByteDance bought TikTok off to an American firm — one thing that was considered again within the Trump administration — most of its points would go away. However even when ByteDance wished to promote TikTok, it will not be allowed to. The Chinese language authorities must approve such a sale, and it’s made it fairly clear that it won’t. —Sara Morrison
8. Is there any form of precedent for banning apps?
China and different nations do ban US apps. The TikTok app doesn’t even exist in China. It has a home model, referred to as Douyin, as an alternative. TikTok additionally isn’t in India, which banned it in 2020. So there’s precedent for different nations banning apps, together with TikTok. However these are totally different nations with totally different legal guidelines. That form of censorship doesn’t actually fly right here. President Trump’s try and ban TikTok in 2020 wasn’t going well in the courts, however we by no means obtained an final determination as a result of Trump misplaced the election and the Biden administration rescinded the order.
The closest factor we’ve got to the TikTok debacle might be Grindr. A Chinese language firm purchased the homosexual relationship app in 2018, solely to be forced by CFIUS to promote it off the subsequent 12 months. It did, thus avoiding a ban. So we don’t understand how a TikTok ban would play out if it got here right down to it. —Sara Morrison
9. How overblown is that this?
For the time being, there’s no indication that the Chinese language authorities has requested for personal information of Americans from ByteDance, or that the father or mother firm has offered that info to Chinese language authorities officers. However American person information has reportedly been accessed by China-based workers of ByteDance, in keeping with a BuzzFeed News investigation final 12 months. The corporate has additionally arrange protocols below which workers overseas may remotely entry American information. The corporate stresses that that is no totally different from how different “world corporations” function and that it’s shifting to funnel all US information by American servers. However the potential of the Chinese language authorities accessing this information in some unspecified time in the future is fueling the nationwide safety considerations within the US.
This doesn’t converse to the opposite causes driving authorities scrutiny of the app: information privateness and psychological well being. Some elected officers wish to see stricter guidelines and rules in place limiting the form of info that youthful People have to surrender when utilizing TikTok and different platforms, (like Markey, the senator from Massachusetts), whereas others would love a more in-depth have a look at limits on when children can use the app as a part of broader regulations on Big Tech. Democratic members of Congress have additionally cited concerns with how a lot time youngsters are spending on-line, probably detrimental results of social media, including TikTok, on youngsters, and the larger psychological well being challenges youthful People are dealing with as we speak. TikTok is already making efforts to fend off this criticism: Initially of March, they introduced new display screen closing dates for customers below the age of 17. However even these measures are more like suggestions. —Christian Paz