'Political Theater': Why Does US Seek Full Ban of TikTok?

© AFP 2023 / OLIVIER DOULIERYIn this photo illustration the social media application logo for TikTok is displayed on the screen of an iPhone in front of a US flag and Chinese flag background in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2023
In this photo illustration the social media application logo for TikTok is displayed on the screen of an iPhone in front of a US flag and Chinese flag background in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2023 - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.03.2023
TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew confirmed on Tuesday that the app now has around 150 million monthly active users in the US, who are coming to the platform "to connect, to share, to learn, or just to have some fun."
The Biden administration recently demanded that TikTok's Chinese owners must sell their stakes in the company or else face a nationwide ban. So why does Washington want to ban the short video-sharing app, and is it on the right side of the law? Sputnik explores.

What is TikTok and Who Owns It?

TikTok is a popular social media app that allows users to create, watch, and share mainly 15-second videos on mobile devices or webcams. The app’s CEO Shou Chew recently confirmed there are about 150 million monthly active TikTok users in the US, who use the platform “to have some fun”.
The app was launched in 2016 by the Beijing-headquartered technology company ByteDance, which currently owns the platform. ByteDance itself is 60%-owned by international investors, according to TikTok officials.

What's Behind the US Drive to Ban TikTok?

The US government’s concerns focus on TikTok’s Chinese ownership. White House officials claim that China’s law would require ByteDance to help Chinese authorities in intelligence and national security matters if asked.

In this regard, the officials expressed two main concerns. The first pertains to TikTok’s alleged ability to give Beijing the data of the app’s users in the US, something that officials allege rides roughshod over US national security.

The second is that the app allegedly could tweak its video-recommendation system in order to show Americans videos that would benefit China’s foreign policy goals. Some US politicians admit that they are concerned TikTok could promote the Chinese government’s preferred US presidential candidate, for example.
Others insist that the only way to protect US national security is to either ban TikTok, or try to force ByteDance to sell TikTok to an American company.
In January, Marco Rubio, vice chairman of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, claimed that there’s an “extraordinary” threat that the Chinese government can influence TikTok’s recommendation algorithms, shaping the content that American users see.
Committee Chairman Mark Warner echoed those concerns, arguing that TikTok’s level of influence is "exponentially greater" than Russia's alleged interference with the 2016 election, which was, coincidentally, never proven by former Special Counsel Mueller's probe.

What About the Legality of WH's Possible TikTok Ban?

In early March, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill allowing President Joe Biden to ban TikTok nationwide. The panel voted 24-16 along partisan lines in favor of H.R. 1153, which is intended "to provide a clarification of non-applicability for regulation and prohibition relating to sensitive personal data under International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and for other purposes."
The measure will now advance to the full House, where its fate remains uncertain. A ban would require passage by the full House and the Senate before POTUS can sign the measure into law.
A logo of a smartphone app TikTok is seen on a user post on a smartphone screen Monday, Sept. 28, 2020, in Tokyo.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.03.2023
China Blasts TikTok Ban, Says Push Shows US Insecurities Over 'Young People's Favorite App'
Republican committee chair Michael McCaul claimed in this connection that "many Americans do not realize one of the greatest surveillance efforts from [China] has been silently gathering personal data in their pockets. TikTok is a national security threat... it is time to act."
The top Democrat on the committee, Gregory Meeks, strongly opposed the legislation, warning that it would "damage our allegiances across the globe, bring more companies into China's sphere, destroy jobs here in the United States and undercut core American values of free speech and free enterprise."

This was echoed by Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, who told a US newspaper that "The Supreme Court has said before —as far back as 50 years ago — that Americans have the right to receive information from abroad, including communist propaganda."

"Restricting access to media is the hallmark of authoritarian regimes. I think we should be very wary of giving that kind of power to our own government," Jaffer argued.
In a letter to federal lawmakers, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) voiced opposition to a full-blown ban of TikTok.
"Congress must not censor entire platforms and strip Americans of their constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression," said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at the ACLU.

Is POTUS Sure of Full Ban of TikTok?

While President Biden said that he's not sure if TikTok will be banned nationwide, the White House gave government agencies 30 days to ensure that the video-making app is not on any federal devices and systems in late February.
"We'll continue to look at other actions that we can take. That includes how to work with Congress on this issue further,” Olivia Dalton, the White House principal deputy press secretary, said.
More than half of US states have, meanwhile, already taken steps toward a partial or full ban of TikTok on government devices.
It's worth noting that the Trump administration unsuccessfully attempted to ban TikTok as well as the Chinese media platform WeChat in 2020, allegedly in order to protect Americans’ privacy. The Biden team did not continue to fight for the implementation of their predecessors' initiative and only recently resumed criticism of TikTok.

What is TikTok's Stance?

TikTok's chief executive will testify before Congress on Thursday that the Chinese-owned video app “has never shared, or received a request to share, US user data with the Chinese government”, according to the official’s written testimony that has been posted by the US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.
Shou Zi Chew is also expected to add that ByteDance is not owned or controlled by any government or state entity.
"Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country," the TikTik CEO will say to the Energy and Commerce Committee.
In response to the US ban of the app on government-issue devices, the company told American media that the move came in December “without any deliberation, and unfortunately, that approach has served as a blueprint for other world governments. These bans are little more than political theater."
"We hope that when it comes to addressing national security concerns about TikTok beyond government devices, Congress will explore solutions that won't have the effect of censoring the voices of millions of Americans," the company added.
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