Our Privacy Statement & Cookie Policy

By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies, revised Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can change your cookie settings through your browser.

I agree

Washington heads down wrong path with TikTok bashing

The logo of TikTok is seen on the screen of a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia, the United States, March 13, 2024. /Xinhua
The logo of TikTok is seen on the screen of a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia, the United States, March 13, 2024. /Xinhua

The logo of TikTok is seen on the screen of a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia, the United States, March 13, 2024. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Anthony Moretti, a special commentator for CGTN, is an associate professor at the Department of Communication and Organizational Leadership at Robert Morris University. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily those of CGTN.

If you listened only to the Washington political elite, you would conclude that the Chinese government could swoop in at any moment and gather any information it wanted about Americans who use the popular social media app TikTok. Why? Because TikTok is owned by the Chinese-based company ByteDance, which, according to Washington's thinking, must do Beijing's bidding whenever it is told to do so.

That is the basis for legislation moving through the U.S. Congress. The bill, passed again by the U.S. House of Representatives on April 20, would compel ByteDance to sell the app to a non-Chinese entity or face a ban on all U.S.-based app stores. America's top elected officials assert that the Chinese government can receive TikTok's data and mold it to influence what users think about China.

Of course, Washington officials have significant information to validate such a claim, right? Actually, no. And they would publicly share such evidence, right? Again, no. In fact, the Associated Press reported that the federal government has not provided any information to support the contention that TikTok sends users' data to the Chinese government. Furthermore, Radio Free Asia undertook a study about TikTok and concluded that there is "no evidence" to back any suggestion that TikTok "intentionally shared or plans to share user data with the Chinese government."

To borrow a baseball term, strike one for a lack of transparency from Washington. 

Certainly, if TikTok was as dangerous as elected officials wanted Americans to believe it was, then neither the president of the U.S. nor any member of Congress would have an account, right?

As the saying goes, "Would you believe...?"

The Senate seems ready to pass the legislation, which would then make its way to U.S. President Joe Biden, who has made clear that he will sign into law any legislation relating to TikTok. Yet, his re-election campaign created a TikTik account a couple of months ago.

A year ago, the campaign said it wanted nothing to do with the app. Alas, with the president's prospects for re-election far from certain – he lags behind former President Donald Trump in key battleground states, and in one such state, younger voters are leaning toward Trump – the (irrational) fear about TikTok being a danger was cast aside for political expediency.

The president is not alone. According to a recent story from the Washington Post, "more than three dozen members of Congress...currently operate TikTok accounts." (The full list as of one year ago can be found online.) And now the hypocrisy really gets thick. When you compare that list to how each member of the House voted on the TikTok legislation, you find that 11 of 24 with TikTok accounts backed the bill about a month ago and again on Saturday.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, from Pennsylvania, was one of the 11. She asserted her initial vote was based on the belief that "there could be real and present threats to individual Americans, to communities, to this democracy, and to our way of life if TikTok data remains within the grasp of the Chinese Communist Party." 

Rep. Donald Payne, Jr., from New Jersey, was another. In defending his first vote, he stated, "This bill would end that surveillance and data collection to allow Americans to enjoy TikTok safely."

One is left to wonder what Rep. Payne thinks about "the surveillance and data collection" undertaken by American-based social media platforms such as Meta and Google. Amnesty International has noted the two social media giants' "surveillance-based business model...is inherently incompatible with the right to privacy and poses a systemic threat to a range of other rights including freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of thought, and the right to equality and non-discrimination." And, yes, mounds of evidence support that claim, and plenty of information supports the claim that Meta agrees to share information about its users with the federal government.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, from Washington state, was one elected official who has a TikTok account and who twice voted against the proposed legislation. She acknowledged that she has concerns about the app, but noted that "the bill provides an unworkable path to remove TikTok from ownership by a Chinese company, making it a de facto ban. This would harm users who rely on TikTok for their livelihoods, many of whom are people of color."

Strike two for a lack of integrity from Washington.

The White House in Washington, D.C., the United States, October 9, 2023. /Xinhua
The White House in Washington, D.C., the United States, October 9, 2023. /Xinhua

The White House in Washington, D.C., the United States, October 9, 2023. /Xinhua

Keep in mind, that an estimated 170 million Americans, most of them young, are on the platform. However, to cast it off as merely an entertainment app would be foolish. TikTok's sponsored study about the app's positive economic impact found it contributed more than $24 billion (roughly the total GDP of the country of Georgia) to the U.S. GDP and employed well over 200,000 people last year. Content creators have shared their fears about any limitations to the app damaging their lives and their financial well-being. 

Critics also note that any attempt to diminish TikTok could open the door to sanctions from China on U.S. corporations. Elon Musk, who has deep economic connections with China and many other countries, is openly opposed to the bill, equating it to censorship. Whether an American uses TikTok for fun or for business, his or her experience will suffer if the application is no longer available. The only question is how and what the financial implications might be.

Strike three on Washington for an attempt to undermine business.

In baseball, a third strike means the batter is out. Forcing ByteDance to sell ought to be out, too. Sadly, this is another example of the potential for America to be better and failing to be.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

Search Trends