Why congress’ attempt to ban TikTok matters

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Why congress’ attempt to ban TikTok matters

March 15, 2024 -

Devotees of TikTok gather at the Capitol in Washington, as the House passed a bill that would lead to a nationwide ban of the popular video app if its China-based owner doesn't sell, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. Lawmakers contend the app's owner, ByteDance, is beholden to the Chinese government, which could demand access to the data of TikTok's consumers in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Devotees of TikTok gather at the Capitol in Washington, as the House passed a bill that would lead to a nationwide ban of the popular video app if its China-based owner doesn't sell, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. Lawmakers contend the app's owner, ByteDance, is beholden to the Chinese government, which could demand access to the data of TikTok's consumers in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Devotees of TikTok gather at the Capitol in Washington, as the House passed a bill that would lead to a nationwide ban of the popular video app if its China-based owner doesn't sell, Wednesday, March 13, 2024. Lawmakers contend the app's owner, ByteDance, is beholden to the Chinese government, which could demand access to the data of TikTok's consumers in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

While Congress has been trying to find a way to reign in TikTok for more than three years, the bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this week seems to have the best chance yet of limiting China’s potential influence through the massively popular social media app.

With a vote of 352 to 65, the legislation was sent up to the Senate with overwhelming and bipartisan support. And while it’s expected to face a more difficult time there, President Biden has already said that he would sign it if the bill makes it to his desk.

So, what exactly would the bill do and why has opposition to the app grown so much in recent years?

Why does Congress care?

Let’s start with why members of Congress on both sides of the aisle seem so worried about TikTok’s pervasive use by Americans:

  • The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) requires that all Chinese tech companies surrender any data that the government requests, regardless of privacy laws in the countries where it was originally collected.
  • While there is no clear evidence that the CCP has abused that ability in America to date, a former employee of ByteDance—TikTok’s parent company—alleged that the government used the app to “identify and monitor activists in Hong Kong during the pro-democracy protests of 2018.” Many in the American government fear the same capabilities could be used here as well.
  • TikTok currently has an estimated 170 million American users and, as Rep. Mike Gallagher, the chair of the House Select Committee on the CCP and co-author of the bill, remarked, “America’s foremost adversary has no business controlling a dominant media platform in the United States.”
  • Whether it was a “Letter to America” from Osama bin Laden that went viral on TikTok last year or the way the app has promoted videos favoring Hamas in the wake of the October 7th attacks last fall, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi—the bill’s co-author with Rep. Gallagher—noted that “the platform continued to show dramatic differences in content relative to other social media platforms.”
  • And, given that it can take users as little as 10 minutes for TikTok to begin recommending shockingly explicit content on subjects like suicide, drugs, and a host of other topics, the threat extends well beyond geopolitical issues.
  • Any lingering doubts as to the app’s influence were put to rest when TikTok pushed a notification—one some users could only remove by clicking on it—encouraging them to contact their congressional representatives to oppose the bill. In response, members of congress were quickly inundated with thousands of calls from people expressing a range of responses from anger to threats of suicide if the legislation passed.

And while companies and government entities have taken steps to ban TikTok to some degree, members of Congress appear on the verge of expanding their censorship of the app on a much broader scale.

So what would the bill aim to do?

What’s in the bill?

The basic gist of the bill is that ByteDance has six months to either sell off its American user base or leave it behind entirely, something the CCP has vowed not to do. However, that’s not all it contains:

  • To begin, should ByteDance fail to divest itself of TikTok’s American market, the bill is designed to ensure that individual companies will do it for them. After the six months is over, any app store or entity found to host TikTok would face civil penalties of up to $5,000 for each user “within the land or maritime borders of the United States.”
  • While the bill names ByteDance and TikTok specifically, the language is such that it would give the president the authority to designate other “foreign adversary controlled” applications as subject to similar censorship.
  • Currently, the list of “foreign adversary” countries to whom the bill would apply consists of North Korea, China, Russia, and Iran, though that list could be updated at a later time should the American government deem it appropriate to do so.

That last bit of open-ended legislation is what has many of the bill’s detractors worried. Most see the threat that TikTok poses, but fear that giving the government the authority to impose this level of censorship could set a troubling precedent for the future.

In short, they’re worried that the solution will end up being worse than the problem.

And that’s a concern that extends beyond TikTok and the bill opposing it.

God’s solution: grow up

One of the most difficult aspects of fixing the sin in our lives can be addressing the symptom rather than the root cause of our struggles.

We see that idea play out with the religious leaders throughout the gospels as Jesus continually worked to tear down the man-made laws intended to keep people from sin, but which ended up keeping them from God. That dynamic was at the heart of his Sermon on the Mount, where six times Christ addresses the crowds with some variation of “You have heard it said…but I say to you” (Matthew 5:21–48).

In each case, his goal was to help people understand the ways that they had become so focused on controlling their actions that they had given sin room to take root in their hearts. And, as a result, their solution only made the problem worse.

Instead, Jesus called them to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translates it this way: “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Christ’s call hasn’t changed. He still expects us to “grow up” and become the people he has created us to be. And a key part of doing so is learning to see beyond the moment to address the real problem without creating a host of others in the process.

Where does God want you to grow up today?

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