By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The proposed TikTok ban: Justified? Or a bad move based on ‘weird, xenophobic fear’?

I’m conflicted on whether it’s a good idea for the U.S. to ban TikTok unless the Chinese government agrees to sell it. On the one hand, there are important First Amendment principles at stake. On the other, it doesn’t strike me that we’re required to allow China to direct propaganda at American users lest we somehow fall short in our dedication to freedom of expression.

That said, Mike Masnick of TechDirt has weighed in with a hot-blooded commentary arguing that banning TikTok would be a grotesquely wrong move. Here’s the heart of it:

The US has dealt with foreign propaganda for ages. And we don’t ban it. Part of free speech is that you have to deal with the fact that nonsense propaganda and disinformation exists. There are ways to deal with it and respond to it that don’t involve banning speech. It’s astounding to me how quickly people give up their principles out of a weird, xenophobic fear that somehow China has magic pixie dust hidden within TikTok to turn Americans’ brains to mush.

I’m sympathetic to Masnick’s argument and have yet to be convinced that the ban is a good idea. And I’m definitely not going to be convinced because House members have been shown secret information that the rest of us aren’t privvy to.

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  1. NahantJim Walsh

    I cannot help thinking of TikTok as an app with multiple purposes, some of them obvious and some of them deeply classified by the Chinese government and unanswerable to anyone other than the PRC/CCP. There is a reason why China closely controls and restricts apps and software in their own country. As with so many things, they can be used for good or for evil and everything in between. And there is no reason to believe that China doesn’t have intellectual resources equal to or superior to our own. Wariness is warranted. Finally, it is basic to the Chinese way of doing things that their intelligence services have complete access to the structure and content of TikTok. That is its inherent danger. I respect the Chinese. Consequently, given their imperial interests, aims and resources, and given their unwillingness to provide mutual access to their internet landscape, a ban makes sense. They are not entitled to the benefits of US citizenship. The do not recognize two-way streets.

  2. Paul Hutch

    I was very glad to see that my Rep, Jim McGovern, posted this:

    “I’m voting no on the TikTok bill. Here’s why:
    1) It was rushed.
    2) There’s major free speech issues.
    3) It would hurt small businesses.
    4) America should be doing way more to protect data privacy & combating misinformation online. Singling out one app isn’t the answer.”

    What we really need is data privacy laws, but just like we need broadband competition to solve a host of problems, it won’t happen because it would cut some easy money coming to corporations and they fund too many politicians.

  3. Andy Takats

    This sudden push against TikTok has been clearly linked to the US gov’t being upset about the pro-palestinian views that have been posted on TikTok since Oct 7th (just google articles in the Economist and the WSJ that clearly state this), and wanting to regulate our free speech. It’s got little to do with China at this point.

  4. MJB

    Users often give up precious privacy rights as part of their access to apps. And the issue here, it seems, is less about foreign propaganda and more about giving China’s government the ability to create a vast database of US citizens, including their names, email address, favorite passwords, photos (of themselves and others), access to their photo libraries and possibly other “private” data, and so forth. Beijing could determine, using GPS location data, which TikTok users are also Pentagon employees, for instance, and then eavesdrop on them.

    McGovern is correct in principle but badly behind in execution. Congress would take years to pass the needed privacy acts, and would be lobbied heavily by some of the largest companies in the world NOT to act.

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