Will TikTok Be Banned?
We’ve seen an awe-inspiring amount of notable apps take the stage as viral sensations. From Snapchat to Tinder, dozens of apps have become household names. But none have inspired so much controversy as TikTok. This social media platform, established in 2016 by ByteDance, allows users to create, share and view short videos with the rest of the world. The app's sophisticated algorithm, like many of the AI-powered algorithms used by social media giants, curates personalized content for users based on what they view.
TikTok's success has skyrocketed due to its short-form video format that fits today's demand for entertaining and fast-paced content consumption. This includes videos featuring dances, lip-syncs, reaction videos, education, comedy skits, and more. As its popularity has grown, so too has the controversy that surrounds it. Now, TikTok is being scrutinized for data privacy worries, its potential to be addictive, the threat of misinformation, algorithmic biases, and copyright infringement issues. Despite this controversy, it remains popular. But many are wondering if it will get banned.
What is TikTok and where did it come from?
TikTok’s true genesis came in September 2017. Originally, it was released as a version of Douyin, a short video-sharing app in 2016 by ByteDance. In 2018, ByteDance merged Musical.ly, a popular music video app, with TikTok. Along with this rebrand, merger, and the general trends moving toward an app like TikTok reaching critical mass, it exploded in popularity. Billions of downloads later, TikTok consistently ranks as one of the most popular social media apps.
It’s not only easy to consume content on TikTok though. The app is designed for ease of creation. It’s a point-and-shoot-and-launch kind of app. It allows for an incredible amount of content to be created every minute. It’s user-friendly and has surpassed all other apps whose focus is to create and share videos. On top of that, it’s simply entertaining and there is something for everyone. Originally, TikTok began as quick entertainment, but it has evolved into being home to lots of educational content featuring tips, hacks, how-to videos, and more. Lastly, the world is getting smaller and an app that allows users to connect with humanity, ideas, and cultures around the world is in high demand.
The controversy surrounding TikTok
The app has faced criticism for several important reasons. So substantial were these concerns that former US President Donald Trump attempted to ban TikTok in the US in 2020 over worries that the Chinese company owning it would share user data with the Chinese government. He and others claimed it was a security risk. The attempt never materialized and other urgent matters became more pressing. The idea of banning TikTok fell from the limelight. Though, that has recently changed as many in the post-pandemic world are once again evaluating the risk.
Where does TikTok’s alleged danger come from?
Privacy: ByteDance, the parent company that owns TikTok, could potentially share user data with the Chinese government. This has led to worries that user’s personal information and activities on the app are being monitored or used for malicious purposes. Some countries have outright banned TikTok over these concerns. Others have taken a gentler approach and placed restrictions on its use.
Misinformation: TikTok's algorithm has been accused of promoting misinformation, fake news, misleading content, and conspiracy theories, leading to concerns that users could be misinformed or misled. TikTok has implemented measures like fact-checking to combat issues like this. TikTok has also faced criticism over how it handles political content. Some are concerned that the app could be used to spread propaganda or sway public opinion. This issue has also been propagated by social media’s propensity to create “echo chambers,” algorithm-created streams of content that only reinforce a user’s existing beliefs and interests.
Addiction: Like all social media, TikTok has been criticized for its potential to cause addiction. Algorithms are designed to keep users engaged and scrolling by showing them a constant stream of content that is exactly what they want to see and consume. But apps like TikTok also use tactics like notifications, likes, comments, and shares, to encourage users to constantly use the app in search of a dopamine hit. This can create a sense of pleasure and reward that can lead to compulsive use and addiction.
While tangible proof of TikTok’s danger remains elusive, this hasn’t stopped several notable nations from banning or restricting the app’s usage. India, Australia, Canada, Taiwan, and the UK have all placed some restrictions on the app, whether that’s a full-blown ban or restricting government employees from using the app on government devices.
A possible ban
If it happened, what would a ban look like? When former President Donald Trump signed an executive order in August 2020, it was blocked by federal judges. A new executive order issued by President Biden in June 2021 revoked the previous ban. If a ban on TikTok happened in the United States, it would likely be executive action or legislation. The most likely way for the government to enforce a ban would be to prohibit app stores from offering TikTok. However, existing users would still be able to access the app. The use of TikTok could also potentially be criminalized. But both of these hypotheticals would be unprecedented in America, a country renowned for its free speech and liberties.
The argument against a ban
Many of the app’s users and supporters are saying no! There remains a lot of support for the app and free speech supporters defend the app and its widespread availability. Those who want to see TikTok remain exactly where it is—available and widely used—argue that banning the app would violate free speech and personal freedom. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew endured a four-and-a-half hour US congressional hearing where he defended the app’s access to all and attempted to ease worries over data and privacy concerns. TikTok is also a popular place for creative expression and community building across several generations, so a ban could deprive them of a way to express themselves and connect with others. It also provides jobs and business opportunities, a key to a thriving economy. If a ban was to occur, it would bring with it much debate.
So, will a ban happen? No one’s sure whether these initiatives have weight behind them or they are just political theatrics. Banning TikTok would come with significant consequences but the potential dangers of the app are forcing many to consider if it’s worth the risk.
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