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Everything You Need to Know About The US TikTok Ban

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Effective 24 April 2024, US Prime Minister Joe Biden approved a bill that might ban TikTok from operating in the United States. 

TikTok has 270 days to sell its stake to an approved buyer or risk complete removal from US app stores. While the actual enforcement of the ban may take several years, as indicated by the legal offense that Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance intends to put up, this latest development stands as the most tangible threat to TikTok’s dominating position as one of the most popular social media sites in the country. The bill, which formed part of a package that included $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, had previously been passed by Congress in March before reaching the President’s desk.

Why is America banning TikTok?

As tensions escalated between Washington and Beijing, concerns from the American camp mounted over the increasingly prevalent iNFLuence that Chinese-backed social media platforms such as TikTok had on the nation’s populace. This is especially true when taking into consideration how the video-sharing app recorded a staggering 1,239.29% growth in the country since its debut in September 2017.

While perceived as a drastic move, American government officials justify their decision over fears that China may potentially be using these social media platforms as a means to spy on American citizens or promote propagandist content. It has also been theorised that user data obtained by these Chinese-owned tech conglomerates may be turned over to the Communist government as outlined by national security law. To date, the United States has yet to provide credible evidence to prove that TikTok poses a genuinely considerable threat to its national security.

Other advocacy groups have also expressed concerns with the platform’s addictive nature, especially among children as well as young teenagers, and the long-term psychological effects it may have on their well-being and growth.

a photo of a phone displaying the tiktok app on a chinese flag, used in an article on the latest tiktok ban in america
Image credit: Solen Feyissa via Pexels

How did the TikTok ban in America start?

This isn’t the first time that the American government has tried to restrict or outright outlaw TikTok’s operations, as former President Donald Trump had previously attempted to ban the downloads of both TikTok and WeChat in 2020 to no avail. In fact, it was President Joe Biden himself who withdrew several executive orders concerning both platforms that had been instated by the previous administration back in 2021.

In its current guise, the ban that was most recently signed into law by President Biden was first proposed by the American House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dubbed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, it was subsequently passed through Congress and the Senate, before being codified into law under the President’s approval.

How does the bill work? 

In essence, the newly instituted law will effectively outlaw the ‘distributing, maintaining, or providing internet hosting services for a foreign adversary controlled application’. The term ‘foreign adversary controlled application’ here refers to ByteDance Ltd or TikTok, as well as any of their subsequent subsidiaries or successors that happen to be operated by a foreign adversary.

It also encompasses any other social media platforms operated by America’s other foreign adversaries that the President has deemed a threat to national security. However, platforms used primarily for product reviews, Business reviews, or Travel information or reviews, do not fall under the purview of this bill. If any such entities violate the bill’s provisions, the Department of Justice has been granted authorisation to carry out investigations, with those found guilty subjected to civil penalties.

When will the TikTok ban in America go into effect? 

At this point, the actual ban itself could take upwards of a year to be enforced, as indicated by the 270-day timeframe provided by the American government to ByteDance to conclude the sale of TikTok to an approved company. This is before taking into account how the President can extend the deadline by an additional 90 days if required.

a photo of a phone displaying the tiktok app on a tripod, used in a story on the tiktok ban in america
Image credit: Amar Preciado via Pexels

But of course, with ByteDance CEO Shou Zi Chew vowing to take the US government to court to fight the ban against TikTok, the process could be even further protracted. In that event, the bill will fall under the scrutiny of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and any stipulated deadlines will be put on hold until the lawsuit’s eventual resolution. Even then, the losing side can still file a review by the U.S. Supreme Court, further delaying its implementation by another year at the very least.

How will this impact TikTok users? 

For those living outside of America, this is unlikely to alter their user experience much, if at all. In Malaysia for instance, ByteDance maintains an active presence in the country with a regional office set-up in KL Sentral, and considers the country to be a key operative market for many of its products including its up-and-coming Xiaohongshu comPetitor, Lemon8.

But for those in the US, as many as 148.92 million active TikTok users could be forced off the app. This could deliver a considerable blow to many social media content creators as well as micro-enterprises that are dependent on the app’s social infrastructure as a primary source of income. In light of that, TikTok has been working alongside many of its users on a large-scale lobbying campaign to highlight their concerns, as seen through a series of ads.

Should the TikTok ban be enforced, its user base will likely shift to other existing, U.S.-backed social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook.

This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia Bangkok

[Hero image credit: May Gauthier/Unsplash; featured image credit: Alexander Shatov/Unsplash]

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