It’s half-past time to talk about our government’s recent moves against the social media giant. In case you haven’t heard of the legislative controversy over TikTok, here’s a quick introduction.
Over the past few weeks, Congress has been considering banning the app in the United States over concerns of data privacy and national security concerns — just last week Shou Chew, the CEO of TikTok, testified before Congress in defense of the app’s practices.
Many prominent members of Congress and the Biden administration have stated publicly that they intend to ban the app unless it disconnects itself totally from its Chinese owner, ByteDance, by selling itself off. A ban pushed by Sen. Hawley (R-MO) was recently blocked in the Senate to give lawmakers more time to decide what actions are appropriate.
But let me cut to the chase here. There isn’t any evidence of any legitimate national security or data privacy concerns. Well, at least no concerns that we don’t have about all other social media apps. The fear with TikTok is that it might take users’ data and sell it to the Chinese government, which could theoretically do bad things with it. Here’s the problem — there is zero evidence that TikTok has ever given any data to the Chinese government, and it would violate its own policies to do so.
There’s an even bigger fallacy with Congress’ argument. TikTok is not the only way they could get access to a lot of data about Americans — those other social media apps sell your data all the time. In the age of big data, there is no shortage of information about all of us on the internet that the Chinese government could easily get access to, with or without TikTok.
And this doesn’t even address the most obvious question. Why do we care if the Chinese government has data about us that it got from TikTok? What nefarious purposes could they use my shopping habits or tastes in cat videos for?
If the Chinese government really really wanted to know this information about me — say I worked for the Taiwanese government or organized protests in China, they could always just hack my phone the normal way. Or track me with satellites. Or with their enormous military. Or with anything else they have in their massive security-state apparatus.
Congress does stupid stuff without enough evidence all the time, but TikTok, as the fastest growing app in the United States, is as important as anything can be to our culture. Every day, businesses and communities get their start on the platform. Many depend on TikTok for their income and connecting with their friends.
Even the Supreme Court agrees with me that social media matters. Just a few years ago, in Packingham v. State of North Carolina, former Justice Anthony Kennedy asserted that social media is “integral to the fabric of our modern society and culture.” It’s hard to imagine a youth culture today without TikTok.
Another nuance in expression was noted by the Supreme court in Lamont v Postmaster General — the court found that the First Amendment isn’t only about enabling individual expression, it’s also about giving Americans access to diverse opinions from around the world. TikTok and its various trends have indubitably helped Americans connect to people around the world.
And I’m not bringing these legal arguments up out of nowhere — the court used similar reasoning to prevent former President Donald Trump from banning both TikTok and Chinese messaging app WeChat only two years ago. It’s hard to find differences between Trump’s justifications for banning WeChat and Congress and President Joe Biden’s justifications for banning TikTok.
Sometimes it’s reasonable to suspend the First Amendment. We don’t let people yell fire in a movie theater or incite imminent violence. But we must have a really compelling reason to do so — something Congress doesn’t have here.
This move by Congress represents a fundamental disconnect between young Americans and our government. Recent polls have found that 63 percent of adults between 18 and 34 oppose banning the app. But who does support banning? Old people and the government. 60 percent of adults 65 or older want a ban, and Biden and Congress have been pretty clear on the question. Even the people who we think of as being young and in power often aren’t really connected to us — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez only just made her first TikTok a few days ago.
This disconnect doesn’t only matter when it comes to what kind of media we can consume — the majority of American life is structured to work for older generations. They get to enjoy their Social Security and Medicare — things that likely won’t exist by the time we’re old. They live on a planet that has yet to be destroyed by climate change. They didn’t have ridiculously expensive college tuition or an economy with the highest income inequality since the gilded age and they didn’t have a pandemic that destroyed their education.
This makes sense — old people vote more than we do, so naturally the world works better for them. And it points to a pretty clean solution — become more politically active! Tell your congressperson to vote against laws that seek to destroy youth culture. Open the voting process to younger people. Get some of those dinosaurs out of there and replace them with people that understand us.
Rowan Gray CM ’26 is from Sharon, Massachusetts. He wants you to know that all Oxford commas in this piece were violently deleted by his copy editors.