The Problem With Banning TikTok

Not all GenZ voters will vote based on TikTok. But some will. Is it worth it?

By Isaac Willour


The current push to ban TikTok is afoot. The House just passed a bill that, if it makes it through the Senate, would force the divestment/sale of TikTok for the app to be allowed on US devices and app stores. If TikTok’s parent company ByteDance doesn’t pull off the sale, TikTok’s gone in the US.

The bill’s drawn bipartisan agreement—even President Biden’s indicated that he’d sign the bill. TikTok’s said it’s ready to fight the bill, and in fairness, it’s beat back previous attempts, including a Trump-era effort to ban it via executive order. What’s actually going to happen—and what are some of the unintended consequences?


Is TikTok Safe?

Nope. Nope, not really. The app is run by Chinese-controlled company ByteDance. Therefore, the data gathered from TikTok is legally required to be accessible by the Chinese Communist Party. I haven’t found a better breakdown than the one offered by national security expert Klon Kitchen, below:

“I ask [people] to imagine waking up to a news story reporting China has secretly deployed 100 million sensors around the United States and has been clandestinely collecting our personal contacts, photos, GPS locations, online purchasing and viewing habits, and even our keyboard swipes and patterns. This is exactly what is happening every day with the more than 130 million American users of TikTok.”

-Klon Kitchen, China Doesn’t Want to Watch You Dance

You won’t hear me arguing that Congress, or the nat sec crew like Klon, is wrong about TikTok—the data it collects and the transparency its overseers provide to the CCP should have advocates of national security concerned about the access Americans have to it, particularly government employees.


The Other Side

But then there’s the other side. My bias. The bias that shouldn’t matter in theory, but 100% does in practice:

I don’t use TikTok. And neither do most of the people working to ban it. And that matters electorally if nothing else.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that Congress needs personal knowledge of a product to legislate it (“How dare you legislate drugs before popping those fentanyl pills, you bigoted boomer-”). I am arguing this: banning TikTok is spitting in the face of 150 million American app users, the vast majority of whom are not using the app with malicious intent. A wholesale ban is the government telling millions of Americans that “no, you are not allowed to use your phone to upload that dance video.”

Justified? Let’s think about what we’re doing to the people who (for better or worse) view TikTok as an online community being targeted by the government.


Yep, People Are Going to Get Mad About This.

The app’s most active user base happens to also be the generation poised to be part of the biggest voter block in decades. To be sure, not everyone is going to vote based on TikTok. But some will. Is it worth sweeping governmental action to prevent people from the possibility of using an app that shares that data with a regime bent on exerting an increasing amount of control over American industries? That is a question for lawmakers—and the answer may well be yes.

But it doesn’t fix the optics problem, and that’s the dirty secret. Many of TikTok’s users don’t care what the CCP does with their data. They’re not about to go and look it up. They’re going to accept Terms and Conditions without ever reading a line of it. Using governmental power to take away their iPhone apps is completely unprecedented territory.


The Future

Banning TikTok, while potentially in America’s national security interests, isn’t opening Pandora’s box. Yet it is going to reveal a reality of America’s new technological age. Platforms like TikTok have created online communities for millions of Americans, and it’s foolish to pretend that banning TikTok is (or should be) business as usual. Until lawmakers can understand that risk, they’re legislating blindly.


About the Author

Isaac Willour is a marketing fellow at the Institute for Faith and Freedom and the editor-in-chief of Checkpoint News.  He is a corporate relations analyst at Bowyer Research. He’s also an award-winning journalist, with work featured at USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and C-SPAN. He tweets @IsaacWillour.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer alone. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.