Is TikTok getting banned in the US for real this time around? In March 2023, the US government called a Congressional hearing with ByteDance CEO Shou Zi Chew. The hearing follows heightened concerns about the national security and social risks posed by TikTok. As things stand, if Congress does not reach an agreement with ByteDance, TikTok may be nationally banned in the US.
What is causing US lawmakers to call for a TikTok ban? Here’s an overview of the issue and a look at TikTok bans in other countries.
Is TikTok Getting Banned in the US?
For the past couple of weeks, everyone has been wondering if TikTok getting banned in the US is something we need to worry about. In 2020, the Trump administration briefly attempted to ban the TikTok app, but was ultimately blocked by federal courts. Unfortunately for TikTok fans, the app is not out of the woods yet.
In March 2023, the issue of TikTok getting banned in the US came up again in the federal government. This time around, the move has attracted support from numerous members of Congress, leading to an official hearing with ByteDance CEO Shou Zi Chew beginning March 23, 2023. Throughout the five hour hearing, no members of Congress voiced support for TikTok or ByteDance.
National Security Concerns About TikTok
While that might all sound foreboding, this isn’t necessarily a sure sign of TikTok getting banned in the US. The Congressional hearing comes in light of heightened concerns about data privacy and national security.
Since TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is owned by Chinese personnel, US government officials are concerned about the possibility of the Chinese government having access to American citizens’ personal information, which can be collected through the app.
TikTok’s tracking capabilities extend beyond the app itself, too. Using something called “pixels”, TikTok can collect data about users through other websites, even if they have never downloaded or used TikTok before. It’s not just data privacy that has lawmakers nervous, either.
ByteDance controls the algorithm that recommends content to TikTok users. Hypothetically, this algorithm could be used to spread misinformation and propaganda that could cause political instability in the US. Due to the nature of the TikTok algorithm, American TikTok users would never know this is happening.
Social Concerns About TikTok
Lawmakers also have social concerns surrounding TikTok. For example, many adults are worried about the amount of time young people are spending on the social media platform. At least 25% of TikTok users are 10 to 19 years old. No social media platform is more popular among American teens than TikTok.
Unfortunately, there is a growing body of research showing the harmful effects social media is having on young people. For example, surveys show that many teens express feeling more overwhelmed, excluded or worse about their lives due to social media. Screen time and poor real-life social skills are also common themes related to social media use.
While many teens go to social media sites to watch funny videos or just connect with friends, the nature of trends and social media culture can quickly get out of hand. Sadly, there have been multiple incidents in recent years involving TikTok trends that led to serious injuries and even death for teens all over the world.
The nature of TikTok allows seemingly random content to rapidly explode in popularity, making it difficult to stop dangerous trends before it’s too late. One infamous and tragic example of this is the “Blackout Challenge” that went viral in 2021 and led to multiple deaths among people under 18. Understandably, incidents like this are leaving many parents concerned about their children’s safety on TikTok.
Does This Mean TikTok Will Be Banned?
There are a variety of views on the concerns outlined above. Even US lawmakers don’t fully agree on every one of these points. These are simply factors contributing to the calls for a ban on TikTok.
So, in light of these concerns, is TikTok getting banned in the US? Maybe. It’s clearly not a decision Congress or the Biden administration would make lightly, considering over 100 million Americans use TikTok. There are other possibilities on the table.
For example, US lawmakers have called for ByteDance’s Chinese stakeholders to sell their stake in TikTok. This would remove the possibility of the Chinese government potentially being able to control the company or access its data. TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew has so far been unfavorable toward the proposals and suggested alternatives, such as “Project Texas”. However, TikTok has already been banned elsewhere.
Where Is TikTok Already Banned?
The US would not be the first nation to enact a federal ban on TikTok. Eight other nations, the UK and the EU already have bans on TikTok on either a national level or on government-issued devices. Perhaps the most famous of these bans is India’s national ban enacted in 2020.
Following geopolitical tensions with China, India’s Parliament banned 200 apps nationwide, including TikTok. Interestingly, even two years after the ban, Indian users note in interviews that they don’t really miss TikTok. However, the story is very different for Indian creators, thousands of whom made their living off of TikTok and have now lost a major source of income.
Most Indian TikTok users switched to Instagram or YouTube after the ban. Both platforms have features that mirror TikTok’s format – “Reels” for Instagram and “Shorts” for YouTube. However, neither alternative can truly compete with the reach TikTok provides, at least not in 2023. On the positive side, the TikTok ban has spurred innovation in India, leading Indian entrepreneurs to start their own TikTok-alternative apps.
In the US, TikTok is banned on all government-issued phones. As of 2023, 27 states also have bans on government devices. Additionally, dozens of colleges, universities and public schools across the US have begun banning TikTok on students’ and staff members’ devices.
“Project Texas”: Alternatives to a TikTok Ban
Is there any way to prevent TikTok getting banned in the US? It may be possible, but it will require a lot of negotiating from both sides. There are currently two main alternatives to an outright ban on the table.
In 2023, the Biden administration called for ByteDance to sell TikTok or the US government would be forced to ban the app. This mirrors the Trump administration’s similar calls for a sale in 2020, although things have escalated more this time around. The Biden administration seems to have the Congressional support to make a ban on TikTok a real possibility.
Demands to sell TikTok aim to avoid a ban and resolve security concerns by removing the Chinese government’s influence over the app. However, considering that TikTok is worth over $50 billion, it won’t be easy to find someone to purchase the app. It’s not impossible, though. After all, Elon Musk infamously paid $44 billion for Twitter in 2022.
ByteDance has pushed back against the Biden Administration’s calls for a TikTok sale. Instead, CEO Shou Zi Chew is proposing a plan known as “Project Texas”.
This complex strategy involves moving all US user data to its own isolated silo in US data centers owned and operated in the US by Texas-based computing company Oracle. A US-approved committee, TikTok U.S. Data Security, would monitor operations and data security. Oracle would also be able to ensure there is no malicious influence over content curation in the TikTok algorithm.
What Will Happen if TikTok Gets Banned?
Right now it’s unclear if TikTok getting banned in the US is actually going to happen or not. Things may play out similar to 2020, with things eventually diffusing and returning to business as usual. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case. In the initial Congressional hearings with Shou Zi Chew, US lawmakers appeared to already have their minds made up about banning TikTok.
It remains to be seen whether or not the app will get banned or if an agreement will be reached. If TikTok does get banned, things will likely play out similar to how they did in India after the 2020 ban. Users lost access to the app, even if they still had it downloaded on their devices. This means they could not retrieve any of the content on their account, including published videos and drafts.
After India’s ban, most users switched to either Instagram or YouTube as their main TikTok alternative. Both platforms are massively popular in the US, so a similar outcome could happen here. Additionally, American developers would likely try to create new apps that replicate TikTok’s format and theme.
Users who are concerned about a possible US TikTok ban can take a couple steps to prepare. First, they can download any TikTok videos they don’t want to lose access to. Second, they can check in with their favorite creators to find out where else they can watch those creators’ content beyond TikTok. Creators should make sure to share alternative platforms with their viewers to minimize the potential impact of losing access to TikTok.
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