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The Tiktok Ban: National Security in the age of Social Media

Ondine Owens




In an era where social media platforms dominate the attention of millions around the world, the U.S. government's recent attempt to ban TikTok raises important questions about national security and digital sovereignty. This ban is not just about the US governments’ perception of TikTok; it's a reflection of the broader concerns regarding data privacy, foreign influence, and the integrity of our national security infrastructure.


At first glance, TikTok, with its endless stream of short, catchy videos, seems innocent. However, the concerns raised by U.S. officials are not irrational. Owned by Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok has access to vast amounts of user data, raising fears that this information could be misused by foreign entities. The Chinese government, in particular, has the authority to  order Byte Dance to hand over the data.  The core of the issue lies in the data TikTok collects - from user location and browsing history to possibly even facial recognition data.


The case for banning TikTok stems from the broader context of rising tensions between the U.S. and China, most notably in the arena of technology and data control. The U.S. isn't alone in its concerns; several other countries have expressed apprehensions about TikTok's data practices. India, citing national security concerns, banned the app in 2020. The concern is that in the hands of a foreign power, such an asset of data could be exploited for espionage, influence operations, or other types of cyber warfare.


However, this move raises critical questions about freedom of speech and the open nature of the internet. Banning an app because it is owned by a foreign company sets an unsettling precedent. Where do we draw the line? In a globalized world, data flows across borders, and tech companies frequently have international connections. The key issue is not the origin of the company but how the data is handled and safeguarded.


Furthermore, banning an app like TikTok might not effectively mitigate the security risks. It could merely push these risks to other platforms or lead to the creation of similar apps. A more sophisticated strategy is needed – one that involves stringent data protection regulations, transparent data practices, and international cooperation to safeguard against misuse of data, no matter the app's country of origin.


Moreover, a ban on TikTok could have unforeseen cultural and economic repercussions. TikTok has grown to become an important platform for creative expression and social connection, especially among younger audiences. It's a space where 170 million users connect, learn, and entertain. It could further sensor activist voices on the app that are capable of reaching audiences far and wide. A ban could be seen more as a move against an open and free internet, impacting the U.S.'s reputation as a democracy and protector of the first amendment.


In conclusion, while national security is an utmost concern, the ban on Tiktok and similar cases must be carefully assessed, in light of their broader implications on freedom, cultural exchange, and the evolving standards of international data governance. Instead of outright bans, the U.S. should take the lead in developing thorough, transparent, and equitable data regulations that protect national security without jeopardizing the open nature of the internet – a task easier said than done, but essential for our digital age.


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