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TikTok: Time is Running Out

March 28, 2024


TikTok has exploded in popularity with 170 million users in the United States (“US”). For context, at least one in three Americans access the application, and according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey, two-thirds of teenagers use TikTok every day. If there is one issue capable of drawing responsiveness from both ends of the US political spectrum, it is the notion of a foreign nation corrupting the minds of their youth.

The Energy and Commerce Committee has unanimously approved a bill designed to force TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance Ltd., to sell the social media platform within six months. The Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act explicitly names TikTok and effectively criminalizes the distribution, maintenance or updating of a foreign adversary controlled application in the US. If the legislation is enacted, TikTok would be banned from all electronic devices unless ownership were to change.  

TikTok responded with the following mass in-application message to its users: “Speak up now — before your government strips 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression.” The message was equipped with a button to reach TikTok representatives and urged users to “[l]et Congress know what TikTok means to [them] and tell [Congress] to vote NO”.

The possibility of democratic governments banning social media platforms, especially those as widely used as Tiktok, may seem somewhat draconian. The bill certainly raises interesting questions on the enduring struggle between private and public considerations, and in particular, individual freedom of expression versus national security. Policymakers have long feared that China could use TikTok data to identify intelligence targets, facilitate disinformation campaigns and sow disorder in the West. Will “Tiktokers” and American tech giants fend them off? Only time will tell.

Author: Emily Groper, 2023/2024 Articling Student


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