9 questions concerning the threats to ban TikTok, answered

A teen sitting on the floor in a hallway holding a phone.
A TikTok ban would certainly upset lots of the nation’s teenagers. | iStockphoto/Getty Photos

So that you heard TikTok’s being banned. Right here’s what’s really occurring.

Since its introduction to the US in 2018, TikTok has been preventing for its proper to exist. First, the corporate struggled to persuade the general public that it wasn’t only for pre-teens making cringey memes; then it needed to make the case that it wasn’t liable for the platform’s rampant misinformation (or cultural appropriation … or pro-anorexia content material … or probably lethal tendencies … or normal creepiness, and so on). However principally, and particularly over the previous three years, TikTok has been preventing towards elevated scrutiny from US lawmakers about its ties to the Chinese language authorities through its China-based mother or father firm, ByteDance.

On March 1, the US Home Overseas Affairs Committee voted to provide President Biden the facility to ban TikTok. However banning TikTok isn’t so simple as flipping a swap and deleting the app from each American’s cellphone. It’s a fancy knot of technical and political selections that would have penalties for US-China relations, for the cottage business of influencers that has blossomed over the previous 5 years, and for tradition at massive. The entire thing may be overblown.

The factor is, no person actually is aware of if a TikTok ban, nevertheless broad or all-encompassing, will even occur in any respect or how it will work if it did. It’s been three years for the reason that US authorities has critically begun contemplating the chance, however the future stays simply as murky as ever. Right here’s what we all know to date.

1. Do politicians even use TikTok? Do they know the way it works or what they’re attempting to ban?

Among the many challenges lawmakers face in attempting to ban TikTok outright is a public relations drawback. Individuals already suppose their authorities leaders are too previous, ill-equipped to cope with fashionable tech, and usually out of contact. A type of custom has even emerged at any time when Congress tries to do oversight of Massive Tech: A committee will convene a listening to, tech CEOs will present up, after which lawmakers make fools of themselves by asking questions that reveal how little they know concerning the platforms they’re attempting to rein in.

Congress has by no means heard from TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, in a public committee listening to earlier than, however representatives will get their likelihood this month. Not like with lots of the American social media firms they’ve scrutinized earlier than, few members of Congress have in depth expertise with TikTok. Few use it for marketing campaign functions, and even fewer use it for official functions. Although a minimum of a couple of dozen members have some type of account, most don’t have large followings. There are some notable exceptions: Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Reps. Katie Porter of California, Jeff Jackson of North Carolina, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota use it often for official and marketing campaign causes and have large followings, whereas Sens. Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Ed Markey of Massachusetts are inactive on it after utilizing it extensively throughout their campaigns in 2020 and 2021. —Christian Paz

2. Who’s behind these efforts? Who’s attempting to ban TikTok or attempting to impose restrictions?

Whereas TikTok doesn’t have vocal defenders in Congress, it does have an extended checklist of vocal antagonists from throughout the nation, who span social gathering and ideological strains in each the Senate and the Home.

The main Republicans hoping to ban TikTok are Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, who’s the brand new chairman of the Home choose committee on competitors with China. All three have launched some type of laws trying to ban the app or power its mother or father firm ByteDance to promote the platform to an American firm. Many extra Republicans in each chambers who’re critics of China, like Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, endorse some type of more durable restriction on the app.

Impartial Sen. Angus King of Maine has additionally joined Rubio in introducing laws that may ban the app.

Democrats are much less united of their opposition to the platform. Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Michael Bennet of Colorado are two vocal skeptics. Bennet has known as for Apple and Google to take away the app from their app shops, whereas Warner needs stronger guardrails for tech firms that may ban a “class of functions” as a substitute of a single app (that’s the identical place Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is taking). Within the Home, Gallagher’s Democratic counterpart, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, has additionally known as for a ban or more durable restrictions, although he doesn’t suppose a ban will occur this yr. —Christian Paz

3. What’s the relationship between TikTok and the Chinese language authorities? Have they got customers’ information?

If you happen to ask TikTok, the corporate will let you know there is no such thing as a relationship and that it has not and wouldn’t give US consumer knowledge to the Chinese language authorities.

However TikTok is owned by ByteDance, an organization primarily based in Beijing that’s topic to Chinese language legal guidelines. These legal guidelines compel companies to help the federal government at any time when it asks, which many consider would power ByteDance to provide the Chinese language authorities any consumer knowledge it has entry to at any time when it asks for it. Or it might be ordered to push sure sorts of content material, like propaganda or disinformation, on American customers.

We don’t know if this has really occurred at this level. We solely know that it might, assuming ByteDance even has entry to TikTok’s US consumer knowledge and algorithms. TikTok has been working onerous to persuade everybody that it has protections in place that wall off US consumer knowledge from ByteDance and, by extension, the Chinese language authorities. —Sara Morrison

4. What occurs to folks whose earnings comes from TikTok? If there’s a ban, is it even doable for creators to search out comparable success on Reels or Shorts or different platforms?

Most individuals who’ve counted on TikTok as their primary income have lengthy been ready for a doable ban. Fifteen years into the influencer business, it’s previous hat that, ultimately, social media platforms will betray their most loyal customers in a technique or one other. Plus, after President Trump tried a ban in the summertime of 2020, many established TikTokers diversified their on-line presence by focusing extra of their efforts on different platforms like Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts.

That doesn’t imply that dropping TikTok gained’t damage influencers. No different social platform is sort of nearly as good as TikTok at turning a very unknown particular person or model into a world famous person, because of its emphasis on discovery versus preserving folks updated on the customers they already comply with. Which implies that with out TikTok, it’ll be far tougher for aspiring influencers to see the type of in a single day success loved by OG TikTokers.

The excellent news is that there’s seemingly more cash to be made on different platforms, particularly Instagram Reels. Creators can typically make tens of 1000’s of {dollars} per 30 days from Instagram’s creator fund, which rewards customers with cash primarily based on the variety of views their movies get. Instagram can also be seen as a safer, extra predictable platform for influencers of their dealings with manufacturers, which might use an influencer’s earlier metrics to set a good price for the work. (It’s a unique story on TikTok, the place even a submit by somebody with tens of millions of followers might get buried by the algorithm, and it’s much less evident that previous success will proceed sooner or later.) —Rebecca Jennings

5. What does the TikTok ban appear like to me, the consumer? Am I going to get arrested for utilizing TikTok?

Virtually definitely not. The most definitely approach a ban would occur could be by means of an government order that cites nationwide safety grounds to forbid enterprise transactions with TikTok. These transactions would seemingly be outlined as companies that facilitate the app’s operations and distribution. Which suggests you may need a a lot more durable time discovering and utilizing TikTok, however you gained’t go to jail in the event you do. —Sara Morrison

6. How is it enforced? What does the TikTok ban appear like to the App Retailer and different companies?

The most definitely path — and the one which lawmakers have zeroed in on — is utilizing the Worldwide Emergency Financial Powers Act, which provides the president broader powers than he in any other case has. President Trump used this when he tried to ban TikTok in 2020, and lawmakers have since launched TikTok-banning payments that basically name for the present president to strive once more, however this time with extra measures in place that may keep away from the court docket battles that stalled Trump’s try.

Trump’s ban try does give us some steerage on what such a ban would appear like, nevertheless. The Trump administration spelled out some examples of banned transactions, together with app shops not being allowed to hold it and web internet hosting companies not being allowed to host it. In case you have an iPhone, it’s exceedingly troublesome to get a local app in your cellphone that isn’t allowed in Apple’s App Retailer — or to get updates for that app in the event you downloaded it earlier than this hypothetical ban got here down. It’s additionally conceivable that firms could be prohibited from promoting on the app and content material creators wouldn’t be capable of use TikTok’s monetization instruments.

There are appreciable civil and legal penalties for violating the IEEPA. Don’t anticipate Apple or Google or Mr. Beast to take action. —Sara Morrison

7. On what grounds would TikTok be reinstated? Are there any adjustments sufficiently big that may make it “secure” within the eyes of the US authorities?

TikTok is already attempting to make these adjustments to persuade a multi-agency authorities panel that it could actually function within the US with out being a nationwide safety danger. If that panel, known as the Committee on Overseas Investments in the US (CFIUS), can’t attain an settlement with TikTok, then it’s uncertain there’s something extra TikTok can do.

Properly, there may be one factor: If ByteDance offered TikTok off to an American firm — one thing that was thought-about again within the Trump administration — most of its points would go away. However even when ByteDance wished to promote TikTok, it is probably not allowed to. The Chinese language authorities must approve such a sale, and it’s made it fairly clear that it gained’t. —Sara Morrison

8. Is there any type of precedent for banning apps?

China and different international locations do ban US apps. The TikTok app doesn’t even exist in China. It has a home model, known as Douyin, as a substitute. TikTok additionally isn’t in India, which banned it in 2020. So there may be precedent for different international locations banning apps, together with TikTok. However these are totally different international locations with totally different legal guidelines. That type of censorship doesn’t actually fly right here. President Trump’s try and ban TikTok in 2020 wasn’t going properly within the courts, however we by no means received an final determination as a result of Trump misplaced the election and the Biden administration rescinded the order.

The closest factor we’ve to the TikTok debacle might be Grindr. A Chinese language firm purchased the homosexual relationship app in 2018, solely to be compelled by CFIUS to promote it off the following yr. It did, thus avoiding a ban. So we don’t understand how a TikTok ban would play out if it got here right down to it. —Sara Morrison

9. How overblown is that this?

For the time being, there’s no indication that the Chinese language authorities has requested for personal knowledge of Americans from ByteDance, or that the mother or father firm has supplied that info to Chinese language authorities officers. However American consumer knowledge has reportedly been accessed by China-based staff of ByteDance, based on a BuzzFeed Information investigation final yr. The corporate has additionally arrange protocols beneath which staff overseas might remotely entry American knowledge. The corporate stresses that that is no totally different from how different “world firms” function and that it’s transferring to funnel all US knowledge by means of American servers. However the opportunity of the Chinese language authorities getting access to this knowledge in some unspecified time in the future is fueling the nationwide safety issues within the US.

This doesn’t converse to the opposite causes driving authorities scrutiny of the app: knowledge privateness and psychological well being. Some elected officers want to see stricter guidelines and laws in place limiting the type of info that youthful Individuals have to surrender when utilizing TikTok and different platforms, (like Markey, the senator from Massachusetts), whereas others would really like a more in-depth take a look at limits on when youngsters can use the app as a part of broader laws on Massive Tech. Democratic members of Congress have additionally cited issues with how a lot time youngsters are spending on-line, probably detrimental results of social media, together with TikTok, on youngsters, and the better psychological well being challenges youthful Individuals are going through as we speak. TikTok is already making efforts to fend off this criticism: At the beginning of March, they introduced new display cut-off dates for customers beneath the age of 17. However even these measures are extra like strategies. —Christian Paz

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