U.S. Government Considers Placing a Ban on TikTok

Congress is debating whether or not to place a nationwide ban on the popular social media platform TikTok….again.


Sam Goerke

CKHS student Shayla Sutliff using TikTok on a personal device.

The popular Chinese owned social media platform TikTok has over one billion users globally actively sharing photos and videos online. TikTok has become frantically popular, particularly with Millennials and Gen Z, being the most downloaded app in the world as of 2023. TikTok is the source for daily news for a third of U.S adult users.  

In August of 2020, former U.S president Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok in the U.S due to national security concerns, but the proposal didn’t reach an actual ban of the app.  However, suspicion of security concerns around the app in the U.S. have continued over the years with high officials like the U.S. FBI director Christopher Wray claiming the Chinese government could be using the app to  “control their devices.” 

TikTok has shown evidence of removing posts that are against the communist Chinese government. Other posts have been removed for content that promoted LGBTQ+ and certain supporting racial hashtags. 

TikTok has claimed that some of these posts were removed to “limit bullying,” and others were merely algorithmic mistakes. 

Central Kitsap High School student Shayla Sutliff is president of the debate club, and believes that because TikTok is a central source of news in the U.S., banning it would be limiting to how people are able to use their first amendment rights. 

“It violates so much precedent set by the Supreme Court about the right to privacy in American phones and American literature,” Sutliff said. “The government is meant to have limited powers. Reaching into people’s phones and banning certain apps and certain sites, I don’t think that’s valid.”

Along with national security concerns, the government is concerned about personal privacy violations. In June of 2022, there were reports that some employees of the company that owns TikTok, Bytedance, gained some information access to two U.S. journalists. 

“I think that a lot of people when thinking about that debate forget that China has the U.S.’s personal information, they can get it from so many different types of technologies that can be used to gather personal information, it’s not just TikTok,” Sutliff said. 

Despite knowing about the security risks, the decision to stop the use of TikTok is one that most people, especially in younger generations, wouldn’t choose to make on their own. 

“The more you reveal about your own identity, the easier it is for the thieves to steal,” CKHS cybersecurity teacher Chris Nelson said. “When you share your interests, your location, your friends, photos, hashtags, etc., any of it can be used against you.” 

For individual use, many Millennials and Gen Z Americans simply don’t care about what happens to their personal data. The average TikTok user doesn’t worry about the risks of their information being used when watching their personal “for you” page or silly cat videos. 

“I also think that it’s such a digital age and we have such a capitalistic society that companies just want to make profit that if selling our private information is the only way for them to make real profit, I don’t think that there’s anything we can really do to stop it,” Sutliff said. 

The issue of metadata collection has been around for decades. Facebook has notoriously been in the headlines of data breaches over the years as recently as April of 2021 when over 500 million  users’ information and addresses were made public online.  

“I think people don’t recognize that FaceBook, MySpace, they were collecting and selling your private data too. Why do we suddenly care now?” Sutliff said.

While Facebook is an American-based company, there was no consideration of banning the app either on federal and state devices or entirely despite hundreds of millions of accounts and information being accessible online. Over one million Facebook users have been warned their information may have been compromised as of 2022, but the concern is focusing mainly on TikTok. 

The fear of the Chinese government resembles the “Yellow Peril” era during the 1890s, which was a racial metaphor for the idea that people from Southeast Asia posed an existential threat to the United States. 

“In the United States there’s a growing anti-Chinese sentiment,”  U.S. history teacher Erik Randall said. “Historically we’ve seen times in this country where we’ve seen both a Chinese immigrant and Chinese sentiment in general, and I think that’s guiding a lot of this as well.”

With little to no evidence that China has done anything malicious with the U.S. personal data collected thus far, it raises the question: what exactly are we afraid of? 

“It reeks of moral panic over what our kids are being exposed to,” Randall said. “‘Oh no, evil China’s going to do stuff.’ What makes us think that corporations that are on social media here are so noble? I find it to be very hypocritical that the focus isn’t on issues that have a menial interest for the American people as a whole. But apparently we’re only concerned about TikTok because it’s a Chinese company, right?”

As of January 2023, more than half of state governments in the U.S have participated in the ban of TikTok on devices owned by the state governments. 

“Washington has a lot of military bases, and the shipyard is super big around here. I don’t see any negatives to banning it on government devices used for government work, I think that’s a totally valid way to increase productivity,” Sutliff said. 

While so many states have banned TikTok on professional government devices, the federal government has yet to reach any statewide ban on all devices. 

“I think that federal and state devices banning social media platforms is a very similar situation to schools banning games on Chromebooks,” Sutliff said. “I know lots of people whose parents work in the military have phones given to them by their job, and if your piece of technology that you are using for your job, was given to you by your job, then you shouldn’t necessarily be able to use it for fun and to play games and that kind of thing.”

In December of 2022, Republican senator Marco Rubio introduced a bipartisan bill for a national ban on TikTok, with Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi and Representative Mike Gallagher supporting the bill. Representative Gallagher even claims that “TikTok is digital fentanyl that’s addictive to Americans,” when talking about the reason to consider a nationwide ban. 

Whether the reason for proposing a nationwide ban is actually the government’s concerns of security or a general disdain towards social media from powerful figures, there will be backlash no matter what decision is reached. 

“I think that a wholesale ban on TikTok is a band-aid solution to a really large problem with personal data and personal security,” Sutliff said. 

In June of 2022 TikTok and Bytedance announced in response that they would be transferring U.S. user data to servers owned by a U.S. company. They spoke to Oracle and Microsoft about selling the U.S. unit, as well as U.S. investors about selling stakes. 

Upon the completion of that migration, TikTok announced that they would soon be deleting all U.S. information from their servers and making a complete switch to U.S. owned parent companies. 

Despite this update, some in the U.S government are still pushing for TikTok to be banned on all state and federal devices. 

“Those devices have the potential to contain our most secure national data.  I don’t think we want to give China the opportunity to obtain that,” cyber security educator Chris Nelson said. 

TikTok said that they would still use the U.S. and Singapore data center for backup, but guaranteed that “100% of U.S. user traffic is being routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.” 

Whether or not the government will place a wholesale ban on TikTok in the U.S. is undetermined at this time. 

“It’s hard to predict the future with technology,” Nelson said. “My guess is that eventually one of the following things will happen: One, there will be a ban, two, the U.S. will develop similar technology and users will eventually migrate over to the more secure app or three, data use in the app will go through a significant filtering process to allow us to use the app but with only certain data routed to us.”

TikTok hopes to continue to have connections in the U.S. and to ensure that the data being collected isn’t going to the hands of the Chinese government.  While allowing their app to remain at the top of the popularity charts, as long as the U.S. government doesn’t step in and remove them from American app stores.