TikTok cannot be banned despite national security concerns

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AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato

The TikTok app logo close-up on a screen. FBI and government officials are concerned about the security of the app and are looking into solutions. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

By Lucy Atkinson, Opinion Columnist

Despite the potential threats to national security that TikTok presents, a ban of the app would be both blatantly unrealistic and unconstitutional.

The FBI has recently released concerns regarding American use of TikTok, an extraordinarily popular app owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. 

The Chinese government and Communist Party, a long-time adversary of the United States, could easily be collecting data and personal information from American TikTok users, as well as influencing what content is presented to users through algorithms, the FBI elaborated on Nov. 15, 2022.

This is not the first time TikTok has faced federal unease. In 2020, Former President Donald Trump attempted to ban the app, as well as another Chinese-owned social media platform WeChat, through an executive order, but failed in court.  

President Joe Biden’s administration put an end to the extreme approach of its predecessor but has continued to investigate national security concerns regarding TikTok and the issue is becoming increasingly bipartisan. 

The most recent elected officials to speak out in support of limiting or even banning TikTok include Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

However, due to the widespread popularity of the app, banning TikTok is politically unrealistic. 

According to a study by the Omnicore Agency, 21% of Americans use TikTok as of 2021 and it is especially popular among younger generations; 43% of TikTok’s audience is between 18 and 24 years old. The platform is used to spread a wide variety of information and entertainment, from promoting silly dances to discussing significant political events. 

Galilea Santana, a sophomore majoring in biology, enjoys the variety of content TikTok provides for her.

“You get to learn about different cultures and music and foods around the world… TikTok was made for us to express ourselves,” Santana said.

Furthermore, banning the use of a communicative app seems a strange way to express disapproval of a communist government. It clearly violates the United States Constitution’s First Amendment for freedom of speech.

Kevin Goldberg, First Amendment specialist at the Freedom Forum Institute in Washington D.C., expressed sincere disbelief regarding congressional ability to implement such a ban. The idea is too broad, too extreme and too opposed. The U.S. Constitution simply forbids it. 

Rather, Goldberg suggests there are other options available for Congress to address the potential security threats of TikTok that would not butt heads with the First Amendment.  

“If it’s (the FBI) gonna move forward on this…They have to make the punishment fit the crime,” Goldberg said. “And it has a lot of less intrusive tactics at its disposal. It could require… divestiture of some foreign ownership… (or) it could require simply that people working for the U.S. government can’t have TikTok on their government devices. That would seem to be the number one thing if the concern is national security.” 

A public statement by TikTok itself, Goldberg also suggested, could be especially beneficial. 

“There’s nothing preventing… the FBI and other agencies from publicizing this more so people understand their own risk,” Goldberg said. “They can actually make TikTok be more transparent. I think that would be a regulation by the government, but one that’s more measured and direct to addressing the concerns than banning TikTok.” 

In a world still adjusting to social media, risk is not a new concept. There is plenty left to hurdle before this young online universe could truly be considered safe. 

In the meantime, however, inhibiting freedom of expression is not the way to solve a messy, complicated issue we don’t yet fully understand.