July 21, 2024
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Congressional Movement to Outlaw TikTok Gains Bipartisan Momentum

Just weeks before the momentous Teaneck High School walkout, a video posted by Amar Halak (@amar_halakk), a THS student and walkout organizer, captured the attention of her 23.9K TikTok followers. With a viral reach, the video begins urging her peers to spend just 60 seconds learning about the history of Palestine. In the nine slides that follow, Halak proceeds to minimize and justify the massacre on October 7th, and to vilify Israel.

The release of this type of propaganda video, along with many others of a similar nature, led to several celebrities penning an open letter to TikTok. They expressed their concerns, stating, “Content moderation on TikTok has been notoriously plagued by inaction, inconsistency, and bias. When harassment targeting Jews is reported, it is frequently not addressed. Most of the violent threats we received and reported on our own accounts have been met by TikTok’s assessment, within minutes, that “no violation [was] detected.”

TikTok’s popularity and accessibility mask deeper issues that have caught the attention of intelligence agencies and parents alike. National security experts in Washington, D.C., have been increasingly concerned about the app’s potential for data exploitation. Owned by Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok could, under Chinese law, be compelled to share user data with the Chinese government, raising fears of espionage. This concern isn’t just theoretical; it’s rooted in the broader context of international digital espionage and data security.

Under Chinese law, there is a possibility that the government could compel companies like ByteDance to disseminate content that could influence American politics. In China, national laws, particularly those pertaining to national security and cybersecurity, mandate that organizations and citizens support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence efforts. This legal framework creates an environment where the Chinese government could potentially exert pressure on ByteDance to use TikTok as a conduit for spreading propaganda or influencing public opinion in foreign countries, including the United States.

While China restricts access to several American apps like X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, citing security concerns, TikTok enjoys unfettered access in the U.S. This lack of reciprocity in digital policy raises questions about fairness and mutual respect in international digital relations.

TikTok’s response to these issues has been multifaceted, including increased lobbying efforts to influence U.S. policy. TikTok’s escalating lobbying expenditure in Washington, which has reached $7.4 million this year and is on track to double last year’s amount, highlights a crisis

that is more than just financial extravagance. The ability of a foreign-owned company to potentially shape legislation and regulatory actions through aggressive lobbying efforts poses a challenge to the integrity of democratic processes.

A notable incident involved a venture capitalist who, after conducting independent research, found that TikTok was favoring pro-Palestinian content. This content could significantly influence public opinion, especially among younger users. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s direct involvement in responding to these allegations by personally calling the venture capitalist to argue the point indicates the platform’s keen desire to maintain its current operations in the US.

The situation with TikTok has reached a point where political figures are stepping in with calls for action. A strong example of this is the stance taken by former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who recently voiced her concerns on Fox News Radio’s “The Guy Benson Show.” Haley’s comments were direct and pointed. “I have long said that we have to ban TikTok,” Haley remarked, “You have got – they are posting letters of Osama bin Laden’s letter, the week after the attack, and it is the justification for why he did it. And so you have a lot of our kids sitting there siding with that, that – ‘Oh, America deserved it at that time.’”

Osama bin Laden’s letter, which went viral on TikTok, is a document seething with venomous rhetoric and dangerous extremist ideology. Laden with antisemitic tropes, the letter paints a disturbing picture of hate, claiming a Jewish dominance over American policies, media, and economy. His words delve further into bigotry, condemning homosexuality and fornication as ‘immoral’ acts, while outrageously accusing the United States of engineering AIDS. In the letter, Bin Laden demands the US transform into an Islamic nation. This letter is not just a historical artifact; it’s a chilling echo of extremist hate speech and a sharp reflection of al-Qaeda’s dangerous agenda.

The former governor’s concerns are centered not just on the presence of such extremist material but on its potential influence on young minds. Haley points out the disturbing possibility of American youth being swayed by such content, leading them to adopt misguided and harmful views.. In response to the viral Bin Laden letter, one young TikTok user stated, “Just read it..my eyes have been opened”. Another stated, “I will never look at life the same, I will never look at this country the same. Please read it, and if you have read it let me know if you are going through an existential crisis in this moment.”

In light of all this, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are renewing calls to create legislation that would ban TikTok in the United states. In a statement on X, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) wrote, “We can’t allow terrorists and sympathizers to continue freely spreading antisemitism, hate, and lies to millions of people in our schools, homes, and across the nation.” In a separate statement Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) said, “For quite some time, I have been warning that Communist China is capable of using TikTok’s algorithm to manipulate and influence Americans. We’ve seen TikTok used to downplay the Uyghur genocide, the status of Taiwan, and now Hamas terrorism.” Despite growing support, a past proposal to ban TikTok found opposition from mostly Democratic members of congress including Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Mark

Pocan (D-Wis.) and Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

As these debates unfold, the case for banning TikTok in the United States grows stronger. The platform’s struggle to balance entertainment with ethical responsibility, its potential risks to national security, and the mental health implications for its predominantly young audience form a compelling argument for serious legislative action.

Last week marks a pivotal moment in our collective effort to address a growing concern that affects us all. A letter is circulating, one with a powerful and urgent message: it’s time for Congress to ban TikTok in America. It’s a call to action and a step towards safeguarding our digital landscape. I urge you to not only send this letter to your representative but to also share it widely among your network.

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