The U.S. Wants to Ban TikTok for the Sins of Every Social Media Company

The TikTok situation is an untenable mess. Banning it will further balkanize the internet.
The U.S. Wants to Ban TikTok for the Sins of Every Social Media Company
Image: TikTok
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On Wednesday, the House of Representatives will likely vote to force ByteDance to divest from TikTok, which sets the stage for a possible full ban of the platform in the United States (Update: it did). The move will come after a slow but steady drumbeat from politicians on both sides of the aisle to ban the platform for some combination of potential and real societal harms algorithmically inflicted upon American teens by a Chinese-owned company. 

The situation is an untenable mess. A TikTok ban will have the effect of further entrenching and empowering gigantic, monopolistic American social media companies that have nearly all of the same problems that TikTok does. A ban would highlight, again, that people who use mainstream social media platforms run by corporations do not actually own their followers or their audiences, and that any businesses/jobs/livelihoods created on these platforms can be stripped away at any moment by the platforms or, in this case, by the United States government. 

Bytedance and TikTok itself have been put into an essentially impossible situation that is perhaps most exemplified in a 60 Minutes clip from 2022 that went viral this weekend, in which Tristan Harris, a big tech whistleblower who has turned the attention he got from the documentary The Social Dilemma into a self-serving career as a guy who talks about how social media is bad, explains that China is exporting the “opium” version of TikTok to American children. 

In [the Chinese] version of TikTok, if you’re under 14 years old, they show you science experiments you can do at home, museum exhibits, patriotism videos, and educational videos,” Harris said. “And they also limit it to only 40 minutes per day. They don’t ship that version of TikTok to the rest of the world. So it’s almost like they recognize TikTok is influencing kids’ development, and they make their domestic version a spinach version of TikTok, while they ship the opium version to the rest of the world.” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr quote tweeted this and said “In America, TikTok pushes videos to kids that promote self-harm, eating disorders, and suicide.” 

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