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Does banning TikTok even matter?

Illustration by Kate Walker

Does banning TikTok even matter?


The Future. The news is out: the Biden administration is demanding that ByteDance sell TikTok or risk the app getting banned in the country. TikTok doesn’t plan on accepting either option without a fight (especially since it’s unlikely China will let it sell with its algorithm intact). Despite the company’s signals that it’s not the best time to do so, TikTok may have no choice but to IPO to bring more structural transparency to its operations and wrest it from overall Chinese control.

Cut the cord
Here’s the state of play on TikTok staying on roughly 100 million Americans’ phones.

  • TikTok doesn’t like those options. CEO Shou Zi Chew says that the US can achieve the same protection from Chinese interference if it just approves the deal it’s been negotiating with CFIUS, which would ringfence US operations from ByteDance.
  • The White House isn’t buying it. Officials point to a 2017 Chinese law that forces companies to share user data with Beijing for national security purposes. Also, the FBI and DOJ are investigating ByteDance for using TikTok to spy on Americans.
  • Now Congress has the baton. Two bipartisan bills are working their way through Congress that would either give the White House or the Secretary of Commerce the authority to ban TikTok. Both parties are concerned about Chinese influence on the app.

Chew will get the opportunity to plead his case to the House Energy and Commerce Committee next Thursday.

Just a matter of time
So, the big question: is the US government right to be worried about TikTok? Well…

  • Forbes found that US citizens were spied on by ByteDance using TikTok, and Chinese state media used TikTok accounts to attack certain politicians before the last midterms.
  • BuzzFeed News found that ByteDance “pushed pro-China messaging to US users of another (now-defunct) app.”

And we can’t forget to mention that the overall relationship between the US and China is frosty right now — the existence of TikTok in America is just one of the battlefields.

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