Barney: Banning TikTok Isn’t a Solution


Mason Orr

(Graphic by Mason Orr | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Sebastian Barney, Opinion Writer


Social media has had a serious impact on all of our lives, in ways we would’ve never expected. Platforms like TikTok have both positive and negative implications — social media can serve as a tool for learning or as a platform to spread misinformation.

Our government has now moved to limit or entirely ban TikTok on the basis of its ownership by a Chinese company. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing in which they questioned the CEO of TikTok, Shou Zi Chew. Currently, Sen. Josh Hawley is attempting to put together a bill to fast track the app’s ban.

The basis for this ban is entirely illegitimate. Rather than focusing on a specific social media company, we should put forward legitimate legislation to fix social media’s flaws. Furthermore, banning a specific app is unprecedented and may do more harm than good.


TikTok is owned by a company called ByteDance, which is Chinese, but doesn’t operate in mainland China. This is Congress’ main point of concern, as a 2017 Chinese law gives Chinese intelligence broad powers over Chinese companies and citizens.

During the hearing, some of our politicians asked baseless questions that were clearly meant to be “gotchas.” For instance, Rep. Carter asked an unhinged question about biometric data collection. The basic premise — a social media platform is collecting biometric data to find content and spread propaganda — is incoherent. A technology called Computer Vision can collect biometric data, but cannot run in a discreet manner at the scale described. After Chew provided a reasonable response, Carter pivoted to how many children have died as a result of dangerous challenges on social media, in an attempt to paint TikTok and Chew in a negative light.

Given the nationality of ByteDance, some security concerns certainly exist. However, TikTok has attempted to mitigate those concerns with a solution that protects national security while leaving TikTok functional.

Beyond this, Congress is putting forward the RESTRICT Act, which would give broad powers to the government in regard to internet security. It would do this in a way which can only be described as authoritarian.

This Isn’t a TikTok Problem, It’s a Tech Problem

Most of our lawmakers are technologically illiterate when it comes to modern advancements like Computer Vision and the internet. In reality, it’s not that deep. TikTok absolutely collects data — what we like, dislike, view and more — but this isn’t unique. As Chew mentioned, Cambridge Analytica, in conjunction with Facebook, collected the data of millions of users without their consent. The tech sector maintains a standard of unethical data collection.

There’s also valid concern about mental health and social media. There’s a positive correlation between worsening mental health and time spent on social media. This issue isn’t specific to TikTok.

If data security is the concern, we shouldn’t make TikTok the center of this debate. Facebook, Google and other American companies deserve the most blame. These companies claim to have our best interests at heart but have failed to stop misinformation, threats to child safety and malicious data collection.

As far as China versus the U.S. in terms of data security, we aren’t better. We’ve had continuous breaches in banks, credit agencies and social media companies. We also have laws similar to China’s intelligence law. The Patriot Act allows U.S. intelligence extremely broad access to information and data. I’m less concerned about what the CCP is doing than I am about Google or Facebook.

The RESTRICT Act also gives broad powers to the government in ways that could control information within the U.S. If it doesn’t scare you, it should — since it would fundamentally change American democracy.

People can clearly weaponize the internet and social media for bad things. But social media has also become a place where marginalized communities can gather and grow. Places like YouTube have housed educational content for years, such as Hank and John Green’s CrashCourse.

Beyond this, it’s allowed independent journalism to flourish. TikTok in particular has a large base of independent journalists and content creators from around the globe.

Congressional Insanity

It’s obvious that social media has issues, but why are we focusing on TikTok? Consider Rep. Dan Crenshaw: during the hearing he stated that ByteDance, and TikTok in tandem, is owned by the CCP. He has fervently come out against TikTok, equating it with the Chinese government and continuously citing the dangers of data access. Meanwhile, Crenshaw and several other politicians on that committee own stock in Meta and Google.

It’s outrageous that we would consider banning an app like TikTok on the basis of origin. It’s even more absurd that we consider something like the RESTRICT or PATRIOT Acts as legitimate or democratic, considering the implications they have against democracy and its institutions.

Mainstream coverage of the issue paints the picture of Chew getting slammed by Congress, which does not reflect the truth. He provided well thought out and responses of substance. On the other hand, Congress said nothing of substance.

Banning TikTok will have serious consequences for communities that use the app for good. It’ll also make things like independent journalism significantly more difficult. Let’s be more constructive. We should pass legislation that stops tech companies from collecting data in destructive ways and crack down on misinformation and hate speech.

Data security and social media are genuine concerns. We should address them instead of maliciously attacking a platform that helps so many. We have to find a compromise that supports the positive aspects of social media while protecting the American people. We also shouldn’t actively make the U.S. more authoritarian in the process.


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