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How will TikTok be impacted by US-China relations?

Some lawmakers have renewed call for bans ahead of March 1st hearing
TikTok Ban UW System
Posted at 5:01 AM, Feb 13, 2023

WASHINGTON — Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China remain tense following a Chinese surveillance balloon being spotted over U.S. skies earlier this month.

This week, more members of Congress are expected to be briefed on the incident and the state of U.S.-China relations.

CEO of TikTok set to go before Congress early next month as the social media application faces intense scrutiny from both parties. However, what is the chance the popular social media site faces a ban from the United States government?

POPULAR SITE

The reality is TikTok is very popular in the United States. In fact, around 90 million Americans are estimated to use it.

You may recall then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2020 to put a ban in place unless certain conditions were met. Ultimately, that was blocked by a judge and President Joe Biden rescinded President Trump's order when he took office.

However, the idea to ban it hasn't gone away, especially in Washington.

"Should the U.S. ban TikTok?" Scripps News asked Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida last week.

"Absolutely," Senator Scott replied.

In early February, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado called for app stores to block it. At least 26 states already ban TikTok use on state-owned phones.

WHY THE CONCERN?

In short, it's China.

TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. In 2021, a firm connected with the Chinese government obtained a stake in the company, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In Washington, that transaction and relationship have been met with concern by lawmakers and national security officials — expressing a worry that sensitive data might be shared.

TikTok has repeatedly denied it.

WILL A BAN OCCUR?

The answer is unclear.

While tensions remain high with China following the recent surveillance balloon controversy, right now, the focus is on what the White House and a little-known government panel known as the "Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States" decides.

That group has been negotiating with TikTok for months about security concerns. The committee could give Tiktok the OK or the committee could recommend a ban.

Another event of note is that TikTok's CEO will testify before Congress in early March.

OPPOSITION TO BAN

"TikTok is not the Chinese communist party; it's a private company," professor Milton Mueller with Georgia Tech said in a recent interview.

Mueller has studied internet policy for decades and says banning TikTok would have consequences. Mueller says other countries may be inspired to impose similar social media bans in the name of national security.

He also believes a ban would violate the First Amendment.

"Banning it is an incredible intervention in their right to freedom of expression," Mueller said.

"I think you're going to see some form of an agreement between TikTok and the U.S. government," Mueller added.

As for TikTok, officials tell Scripps News that a ban would be inappropriate.

"Calls for total bans of TikTok take a piecemeal approach to national security and a piecemeal approach to broad industry issues like data security, privacy, and online harms," Jamal Brown, a spokesman with TikTok, said. "We hope that lawmakers will focus their energies on efforts to address those issues holistically, rather than pretending that banning a single service would solve any of the problems they're concerned about or make Americans any safer."