Under the Trump administration, TikTok, the popular social media application that allows users to create and share short videos, came under fire for its possible endangerment of national security because of its close ties to the Chinese government.
These national security concerns were highlighted in a bipartisan spending bill that passed at the conclusion of 2022. This bill included funding mainly to attack monopolies in specific sectors of the American economy, but also included wording that banned TikTok from any federal device. While many may believe this is an overreaction by the US government, there are serious national security interests at play. The actions taken by Congress under the Biden administration through the 2022 spending bill present a firm middle ground of action and restraint. Anything less would be dangerous to security, but anything more would put America’s promise of liberty in limbo.
In general, it is hard for kids, especially teenagers, to conceptualize the importance of issues relating to national security because they are focused on more pressing-seeming things in their busy day to day lives. As a person who fits into this group, I first balked at the idea of the government taking away an app that so many people use daily. Though the ban was limited to government devices, I still looked at this as some sort of an overstep. Nevertheless, the more digging I was able to do, the more perspective I gained.
The central concern is that TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, which is headquartered in China, is sharing private consumer data with the Chinese government. While this is not necessarily dangerous for the everyday person, there is risk for someone who handles classified information.
In an article last year, Forbes alleged misconduct such as data stealing by TikTok’s parent company Bytedance. Bytedance shot down these claims saying the report “lacked journalism integrity” and “did not include our statement categorically denying these claims.” While nothing came of this report directly, it was certainly something that made the government of the United States pay closer attention. Furthermore, in early 2021, a Chinese government subsidiary purchased a one percent stake in Bytedance and appointed a government official to its board of directors. From the United States point of view, this proves what they believed all along that a direct connection between the Chinese government and the company Bytedance did in fact exist.
And, as of March 16, 2023, the Biden administration has brought a public ultimatum on the company saying either relinquish ties with China or face a full ban in the United States. A Tik Tok spokesperson said in part regarding this ultimatum that a change in ownership would “not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access”. On top of that, China has called out the US government for “unreasonably suppressing” the app and spreading “false information”. The government entity behind the threat is the Committee on Foreign Investment, which focuses on the issue of foreign economic activity through a domestic lens. In other words, they oversee any foreign entity looking to do business in the United States.
While this ultimatum from the committee may be seen as an overkill, this instance is distinctly different. China has shown a distinct pattern of intellectual theft and misuse through multiple state owned enterprises such as the famed APT 41. When a government consistently uses technological spaces to advance their interests, it would be irresponsible for the United States not to address it.
On the other hand, I believe a full ban of the app, like the one the Committee of Foreign Investment is threatening, in the US is major overkill. Sure this threat is big, but it is not big enough to warrant such drastic action. It is important to remember that many individual people, as well as corporations, use the platform to monetize themselves. For example, Livvy Dune, a member of the Louisiana State University’s gymnastics team, has turned her following from TikTok into multiple sponsorship deals tallying millions of dollars. Taking TikTok away from the entire country would only limit economic opportunities for thousands of Americans that use the app to grow their platform on a daily basis.
The United States has a difficult decision to make — one that has ramifications for many Americans in ways that are not entirely obvious. While the federal government has taken action to combat the threat for federal employees, the rest of the country is waiting to see if this new Congress will take greater action. It is important for the government to be conscious of national security, but not too conscious, as overreactions limit the civil liberties on which this country was built.