What is the TikTok "ban"?

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What is the TikTok “ban”?

How Congress’ bill highlights common ground in America

April 30, 2024 -

TikTok application icon on iPhone. By chathuporn/Stock.Adobe.com

TikTok application icon on iPhone. By chathuporn/Stock.Adobe.com

TikTok application icon on iPhone. By chathuporn/Stock.Adobe.com

TikTok is a cornerstone American pastime. Over half of all Americans get on TikTok at least monthly, and users may spend an average of 1.5 hours daily scrolling through the app. The majority of Gen Z are on TikTok, with around one in five saying they’re on it “almost constantly.”

Given its popularity, it’s perhaps surprising that Congress seems to (mostly) agree on banning the app. The stalled, partisan Senate hasn’t passed any legislation in months, but last week, Tuesday, April 23rd, it passed a bill to fund the war efforts in Ukraine and Israel and the likely ban on TikTok. President Biden signed it into law the next day. What is TikTok, and why do US authorities want to ban it?

TikTok is a social media app that allows you to endlessly scroll through short videos uploaded by other users. A wide variety of content is posted on TikTok. From exceedingly helpful cooking videos to the quintessential internet virality of entertaining cats (which garnered my wife’s and my cat a couple of million views), TikTok’s secret to success is its proprietary algorithm. TikTok capitalizes on the addictive nature of short-form video content, tailoring each video in the queue to the user’s preferences to keep users scrolling.

Why does Congress want to ban TikTok?

While TikTok, alongside other social media companies, arguably contributes to the mental health crisis, it’s for a far different reason that Congress wants to restrict it. Nathan Allen explains why the US wants to ban TikTok in his informative piece, “Will the US ban TikTok? Listening for God amidst the noise of the world.” I’ll cover it in brief. The US authorities’ argument is simple:

The company that owns TikTok, ByteDance, is Chinese. The Chinese authorities could, in theory, exercise control on ByeDance to (a) get the personal data of US TikTok users and (b) use the platform to spread propaganda or suppress information. This could be particularly worrying as one-third of young adults say they get their news from TikTok. As tensions rise between the US and China, US authorities worry that Beijing will use TikTok to manipulate US politics and fray the US’s already taught social fabric. In short, TikTok poses a national security risk.

Without getting too much into the weeds, although TikTok claims that it’s set up safeguards against privacy breaches and won’t give user’s information to the Chinese Communist Party, there are reasons to doubt this defense.

What is the TikTok “ban?”

Technically, the bill passed last Wednesday won’t ban TikTok outright. Rather, it gives ByteDance until Jan 19th, 2025, to sell TikTok to a US-based company or face being removed from Google and Apple’s app stores. They would get a three-month extension if a deal is in the works. However, TikTok has said it won’t sell but will fight the law in the courts instead. They will argue that this “divest or be banned” ultimatum is unconstitutional and infringes on their free speech. Anupam Chander, a professor at Georgetown University, told Fortune the ban is a  “clear intrusion upon free expression” and “has not been justified on national-security grounds.”

This represents a new direction from Congress, which has been reluctant to censor or regulate social media giants before this point. Why did Congress unite around this bill to pass it? Senator Marco Rubio summarizes Congress’ case, “For years, we’ve allowed the Chinese Communist party to control one of the most popular apps in America that was dangerously shortsighted.” This sentiment aligns closely with the US Government’s clear, established purpose, laid out in the Preamble to the Constitution: “provide for the common defense.”

The majority of Senators passed the bill. This agreement around common causes leads us to another point of reflection–where do most Americans find common causes?

Most US citizens can still find common ground

I don’t need to tell you the US is ideologically and politically more divided than it has been in decades. As such, it always feels miraculous when Congress passes anything. With this bill, which funds Israel and Ukraine’s armed conflict and bans TikTok, I wanted to take this chance to accentuate the common ground shared by most Americans.

The “Similarity Hub” project by AllSides Media (a service that helps people navigate media bias) highlights survey results that show where Americans agree. For example,

  • Ninety-five percent of Americans “think it is at least somewhat important that the rule of law is applied fairly and equally.”
  • Ninety-five percent of Americans “think it is at least somewhat important to protect the individual liberties and freedoms defined by the Constitution.”
  • Eighty-nine percent of Americans “favor providing tax credits to Americans who install clean energy systems like solar power in their homes.”
  • Eighty-six percent of Americans “say Republicans and Democrats are more focused on fighting each other than solving problems.”

Although the TikTok ban will likely drag on in courts for years to come, the bill shows that politicians at least agree that they ought to protect national security and aid our allies in need.

The most important common ground

While your friends, family, and neighbors may disagree on fundamental issues, you might have more common ground than you realize. However, the most important common ground is in our identity as images of God.

While many ancient cultures wrote creation myths that elevated their leaders as gods and made other people groups inferior, Genesis says that all people are descended from Adam and Eve. All are beloved and created by God, and all are in need of a savior. This common ground should lead Christians to lead in reason, care, truth, love, and compassion, regardless of other people’s beliefs. Even if they don’t know it or believe it, everyone is made in God’s image.

If you’re interested in how you can bridge divides with compassion, empathy, reason, and truth, consider reading Dr. Jim Denison’s second edition of Between Compromise and Courage.

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