Of Course We Should Ban TikTok. It’s About National Security, Not Free Speech | Opinion

Doing something about TikTok seems to be just about the only thing on which a bipartisan consensus still exists in Washington. The Biden administration and most Democrats and Republicans (outside of libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are in agreement that no company controlled by the Chinese Communist Party should be able to go on mining the data of American citizens.

They’re right about that, as was Montana Governor Greg Gianforte when he stepped up to the plate and did what Congress has failed to do: Last week, Gianforte banned TikTok across the entire state of Montana.

Almost immediately, TikTok sued Montana for allegedly violating its right to free speech. It’s nonsense, of course, but that doesn’t mean that TikTok can’t win in the courts.

A Getty photo illustration, the social media application logo, TikTok is displayed on the screen of a Smart phone on an American flag background

TikTok claims an audience of 150 million users in the United States. It’s become the social media app most beloved by young Americans. Prior to being summoned to a grilling by Congress on March 23, TikTok CEO Shou Chou took to the platform to rally users to push back against efforts to ban it in the United States, secure in the knowledge that he was better able to generate support from Americans than most politicians.

That helped generate a groundswell of support from those who argue that a ban would be an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, including the American Civil Liberties Union. Hence the lawsuit from China.

Were this a debate purely about the way TikTok acts as a mind-numbing waste of time, they’d be right. But the right of Americans to upload videos to the Internet to promote their ideas or products or just to amuse themselves isn’t the real issue. The only relevant concern is that TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a nominally private company that is effectively controlled by the government of Communist China.

Chou, a citizen of Singapore, has assured Congress and his U.S. users that the company operates independently and has never handed any of the vast store of data that TikTok obtains to the Beijing government. But no one, not even those who make free speech arguments, believes that.

Everything we know about the way the Chinese Communist Party operates leads inevitably to the conclusion that it is a given that in addition to amusing Americans (and employing 7,000 of them), TikTok’s purpose is to benefit that tyrannical regime.

It’s no accident that teens on TikTok report being directed by the algorithm to videos recommending they starve themselves, or cut themselves, or even kill themselves—videos that are heeded in too many horribly tragic instances. It’s owned by our greatest adversary. Of course they are using it to hurt our kids.

The idea that Washington should tolerate a hostile totalitarian power that is America’s main geopolitical rival mining data and spreading Beijing’s propaganda in this country is absurd. As Senator Josh Hawley put it in a hearing, there is no First Amendment right to spy on U.S. citizens.

It’s true that banning downloads or the continued operation of any Internet-based app is complicated and will be difficult for the government to enforce. It’s certainly true that Montana or any other individual state won’t be unable to do so effectively on their own. Any ban also faces a difficult slog through the courts where liberal judges may heed the specious arguments put forward by the company and its allies.

But the notion that the government should have to conclusively prove that TikTok is handing over data to Beijing should be preemptively rejected. The chances of getting honest answers about that are just as negligible as those of getting the CCP to divulge the truth about what happened in Wuhan during the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The only point that matters is this: Contrary to Beijing’s American apologists, shutting down TikTok is not like banning an American newspaper or media outlet. TikTok’s ability to mine data and its Chinese ownership makes it a clear and present danger to U.S. security in a way that trumps every other concern.

Of course, the government ought to be addressing the violations of privacy being committed by Internet companies not owned by China. But even more urgent is TikTok. One way or another, Washington—and not state governments like that of Montana—must act to shut down TikTok as soon as possible.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS.org and a senior contributor to The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.