Pressure is mounting from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress to pass a national ban on TikTok, the social video app owned by Chinese company ByteDance which has already been banned on federal devices and some college campuses over privacy concerns.
TikTok has faced calls for bans from critics who fear China may use the platform to access the data of American users.
Criticisms of the social platform intensified in the fall after reports revealed ByteDance repeatedly accessed U.S. user data and planned to use TikTok to track the location of specific American citizens ( including Forbes journalists ).
ByteDance previously denied it had used TikTok to "target" journalists or public figures, but after an internal investigation revealed employees tracked journalists covering the company, it fired its chief internal auditor who led the team orchestrating the surveillance.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who sponsored the ban on TikTok on federal devices which was signed into law in December, also introduced broader legislation on January 25 which would ban TikTok on all devices inside the U.S.
Republicans have long called for a ban, claiming TikTok would allow the Chinese government to spy on American citizens — but they're now joined by a small number of Democrats, including Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet , who urged Apple and Google last week to remove the app from their respective stores.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said TikTok poses “national security concerns” at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing in November.
President Joe Biden approved a ban on TikTok on devices owned by government agencies in December, following a wave of primarily Republican-led states who had passed similar measures.
Since December, a number of schools and university systems have banned TikTok on school-owned devices and on school wifi and have discouraged the use of TikTok on students' personal devices.
Some lawmakers are trying to go a step further and pass a nationwide ban on TikTok — Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced such a bill in January.
Federal Tiktok Ban Efforts
Talks of a TikTok ban date back to Donald Trump's presidency, when he raised alarms that the app could pose a national security threat. Trump signed an executive order in August 2020 that would have banned the platform in the U.S. unless ByteDance sold TikTok's U.S. operations (the ban was later blocked in court and the executive order rescinded by Biden in June 2021). But recent efforts have gained more traction. The No TikTok on Government Devices Act, sponsored by Hawley and included as a provision in a large government spending bill, bans TikTok from being accessed or downloaded on federal devices or networks and follows a number of similar statewide laws. Sen. Marco Rubio (D-Fla.) previously introduced the ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act in the Senate in December, which would ban social media companies under the influence of a "country of concern" — including China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.).
Growing Bipartisan Support For A Tiktok Ban
Calls for a TikTok ban have long been made by Republicans, though some Democrats are now voicing support for limiting or regulating the social platform while shying away from a total ban. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) sent a letter to Apple and Google urging the companies to remove TikTok from their app stores last week. Krishnamoorthi, who cosponsored the ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act, told Forbes there is genuine unease about TikTok in Congress among both parties. The first Democratic lawmaker to co-sponsor a TikTok ban, Krishnamoorthi told Forbes he's concerned about the Chinese government potentially using data of American citizens and TikTok's lack of transparency over surveilling American citizens. Some states governed by Democrats — like New Jersey and Wisconsin — implemented bans on using TikTok on government devices. Some Democrats favor a more mild approach, like California Rep. Ro Khanna, who would favor legislation that would force TikTok to be sold to an American company, instead of a total ban.
Tiktok's Lobbying Efforts
In response to political and legislative pressure, TikTok and ByteDance have ramped up lobbying in the United States. Previously using a "heads down" approach in talks with the Biden administration, ByteDance general counsel Erich Andersen said the company is shifting its approach to "accelerate our own explanation of what we were prepared to do and the level of commitments on the national security process," meeting with think tanks and lawmakers and hiring for a number of new communications roles. ByteDance spent nearly $5.4 million on lobbying efforts last year and is expected to outpace that figure this year, The New York Times reported .
What To Watch For
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23. He is expected to field questions about consumer privacy, data security and TikTok's "relationship with the Chinese Communist Party." TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement the company welcomes the opportunity to "set the record straight about TikTok, ByteDance, and the commitments we are making to address concerns about U.S. national security."
School Tiktok Bans
While states began cracking down on TikTok on government devices, schools and universities started taking action, too — many public universities have blocked access to TikTok on campus WiFi, though students can still access the app using their cellular data. Schools who've banned TikTok on campus devices and networks include the University of Texas , University of Oklahoma , Oklahoma State, the University of Central Oklahoma, Boise State University , Auburn University , Arkansas State University, University of Georgia, Idaho State University, Iowa Public Universities, Morgan State University, Montana University System, Northeastern State University, and South Dakota University System.
TikTok, an algorithm-based, short-form video sharing social media platform, exploded in popularity over the past several years, reaching one billion monthly active users in September 2021. It's still relatively young compared to its social media competitors: it launched in 2016 in China as Douyin and merged with musical.ly in August of 2018. It's widely popular with teenagers — a 2022 Pew Research Center survey found two-thirds of American teenagers aged 13-17 use the app. TikTok is used worldwide, though several countries have raised data privacy and other concerns — most notably, India banned the app in 2020 over security concerns.
EXCLUSIVE: TikTok Spied On Forbes Journalists ( Forbes )
Senate Democrat Michael Bennet Asks Apple And Google To Ban TikTok From App Stores ( Forbes )
University Of Texas Blocks TikTok From Campus Wi-Fi—Here Are The Other Colleges Banning The App ( Forbes )
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