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Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Think TikTok won’t be banned in the U.S.? Think again

Illustration+Kellyn+Taylor
Kellyn Taylor
Illustration Kellyn Taylor

Opinion editors are not responsible for agreeing or disagreeing with their writers but rather elevate each individual’s specific voice. 

A bill was passed in Congress on March 13 that gave ByteDance, the China-based company that owns TikTok, two choices: either sell the company to one not based in China, or face a complete United States ban within six months. 

Congresspeople seem to think that TikTok will sell. Jeff Jackson, representative for North Carolina’s 14th congressional district, posted a video on TikTok stating he voted for the bill because he found there to be “practically zero” chance that a full ban would actually go into effect. 

He is not the only congressman that uses TikTok as a platform to build and maintain support. As of November 2023, 34 representatives had official TikTok accounts. TikTok’s reach is undeniable. Even representatives who do not have the app in an official capacity must be aware of its wide spanning reach and ability to target certain voter demographics. If they are not, then they are out of touch with the modern-day U.S. and are not accurately representing their constituents. 

TikTok is a powerful app and tool to be leveraged for politics. In light of this knowledge, I believe that many representatives are not in support of the app being completely banned in the U.S. This is proven by videos like Jackson’s, that falsely claim that TikTok will not actually end up being banned should it pass the Senate. Thus, they must believe that ByteDance will sell the app within the allotted time period, and TikTok will continue to function on American cell phones, just owned by a different company. 

What they fail to grasp, however, is TikTok’s worldwide success, and the intensely U.S.-centric mindset they have in believing that ByteDance needs Americans in order for TikTok to be successful as an app.

TikTok has been an extremely successful investment for ByteDance. In November of 2017, ByteDance purchased Musical.ly, TikTok’s predecessor, for roughly $1 billion and merged it with TikTok, which was only available in India at the time. In 2023, TikTok generated roughly $16.1 billion, making it an incredibly profitable investment for ByteDance in only the seven years since the purchase. 

With or without Americans, the app will continue to be successful. The U.S. does have a large number of TikTok users, with 170 million Americans using the app, but as part of the 1.5 billion monthly active users that made up TikTok’s user base in 2023 and the projected 1.8 billion users by the end of 2024, Americans are only a small portion. 

What this means is that even if it ends up banned across the U.S., TikTok will remain a profitable asset. The loss of almost 10 percent of its users would be sure to cause loss in profit, and if other countries followed suit in banning a ByteDance-owned TikTok, the company may be forced to sell, but Congress’ threat to ban TikTok alone will not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. 

The app engages in data mining which is very clearly harmful, and it should obviously be regulated. Apps like TikTok should not be able to sell and save so much user data, but that is not a problem exclusive to TikTok. To assume that is simply xenophobia, in assuming that non-American citizens are the only ones greedy for American data, because it is only China being able to profit from this data that they want to stop. 

Evan Greer, director of nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future, said, “Yes, it’s concerning that the Chinese government could abuse data that TikTok collects. But even if TikTok were banned, they could access much of the same data simply by purchasing it from data brokers, because there are almost no laws in place to prevent that kind of abuse.” 

The reality is that it is also an internal problem with companies that are American-based, like Meta. These companies, owned and run by Americans, engage in data mining equally as harmful as that of TikTok. Maybe the U.S. government should focus on regulations internally, before we cite these problems as reasons to ban products owned by foreign companies.

The interests of the U.S. government are self-serving; that much we know to be true. This bill and the attempt to ban TikTok is not the saving grace Congress thinks it is. Scapegoating TikTok and Chinese companies in the battle for privacy in the digital era does nothing to combat the theft of information within America. Before we ban TikTok, how about we ban Meta and X? Or any search engine that tracks our searches and sells information to advertisers? Or banks tracking our spending information to maximize marketing?

TikTok is not a utopia. No website or app can perfectly moderate users and content, and TikTok is no exception. However, banning the app is not the solution. Regulation and tighter restrictions on app usage would be better ways of reducing negative effects of the app while ensuring those who use TikTok for important reasons—whether that’s for work, for community, or for inspiration—are not unfairly punished.

The bill has yet to reach the Senate, amidst lawmakers pushing for slower deliberation of its contents, but should the bill pass the Senate and reach Biden—who has already stated he will sign the bill should it cross his desk—it will not be a win for the privacy of American citizens. It will be a loss of an important avenue for connection, both between American citizens and between American voters and their government, who have shown that they are not willing to take time considering the implications of this bill on the hundreds of millions of Americans who do use TikTok. 

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About the Contributor
Ella Duggan
Ella Duggan, Opinion Co-Editor
Ella Duggan (she/her) is a freshman communication studies major from Wellington, New Zealand. She likes writing about sports, feminism, and pop culture. Outside of the Beacon, she sings tenor for the Emerson Acapellics, is an avid reader of romance novels, and loves hockey - Go Canucks!

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