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The possibility for a nationwide ban on TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media platform, is rising by the day. The latest jurisdiction to announce a ban on TikTok is New York City. From here on out, the TikTok app can no longer be installed on NYC government devices. Now that New York City has moved to ban TikTok, that means a wide range of universities, states, cities, and branches of the federal government have now banned TikTok on their devices.
In announcing the new TikTok ban, NYC government officials specifically mentioned “security concerns.” They claimed that TikTok represents a security threat to the city’s networks, and thus, should not be allowed on the devices of government employees. Put another way, the TikTok app is a potential backdoor into the inner workings of the NYC government. This might put into peril the city’s infrastructure, including its vast transportation infrastructure.
And that’s arguably the best reason why the TikTok ban in New York makes sense. The last thing you want to happen is for the city’s grid to go down, or for the airspace over JFK airport to be closed, or for the city’s subway system to stop running, simply because some junior government employee was enjoying TikTok videos on their phone during a leisurely lunch break in Lower Manhattan. Any use of TikTok on a government-owned device could potentially open up security loopholes for Chinese hackers.
Another major concern about TikTok involves user privacy. Since TikTok is owned by a Chinese company (ByteDance), it means that it could be forced to hand over sensitive user data to the Chinese government at any time. And users in the United States wouldn’t have any say over this at all.
Yes, TikTok’s executives in the United States can protest all they want, insisting that could never happen, and that all U.S. user data is stored on U.S.-based servers, but you never know. If you buy into the notion that the Chinese Communist Party is a largely authoritarian regime, they can probably demand any data they want from TikTok.
Why isn’t a nationwide ban in effect?
So, given the clear security and privacy concerns about TikTok, why isn’t there a real nationwide ban in effect? If governments, universities, and branches of the federal government are concerned about TikTok, shouldn’t we as a nation just go all-in on a ban of TikTok?
One potential reason may have to do with the White House and the upcoming 2024 election. First and foremost, President Joseph Biden probably doesn’t want to antagonize China ahead of the presidential election cycle. Who needs diplomatic tension (or worse) when you’re trying to win an election?
And that leads to another important consideration: winning the youth vote. President Biden still needs to court younger investors and convince them to vote for him. If he banned their favorite social media platform, that probably wouldn’t win him a lot of votes. Remember how Biden tried to win over the youth vote in 2020, promising them the end of student loan debt? Well, he obviously needs to do everything he can to convince them that he’s on their side.
Moreover, Biden’s team has publicly embraced TikTok influencers as a way of reaching out to very young voters who don’t get their news from traditional news outlets. It would send out mixed messages to everyone if he’s using TikTok influencers one day, and then trying to ban TikTok the next.
What happens next?
Thus, it will be very interesting to see what happens next. The notion of a nationwide ban on TikTok was originally floated during the presidency of Donald Trump in July 2020, and over the ensuing three years, it has proven to be an issue with staying power. The latest New York City ban on TikTok has convinced me that it’s time to once again call for a nationwide ban on TikTok. The potential threats to security and privacy are just too high.