Among the many items hidden in the $1.7 trillion spending bill that Congress is working to pass to fund the government next year, there is a small victory for TikTok’s enemies: users of public phones and devices will not be allowed to install the video app and must remove it. if it is installed.
As my colleague Sarah Morrison reported, the move, advocated by Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley, is mostly symbolic, as the app is already banned in several agencies and departments and will only apply to employees of the executive branch. “This does not prohibit the app on the phones of employees of other departments, such as members of Congress or their employees,” she wrote. This means that the handful of members of Congress, staffers and interns who use the app to communicate with voters or to share a behind-the-scenes look at how the federal legislature works are still free to do so.
The executive ban would be the latest victory for the bipartisan wing of members of Congress who have criticized the social platform for its Chinese ownership and potential collaboration with the Chinese Communist Party (if it asked for user data). Report from edge and New York Times this year, the fears were confirmed by the discovery of cases where ByteDance employees had improper access to user data, including journalists. AND Buzzfeed investigation also found that ByteDance employees in China had access to “non-public data on TikTok users in the United States.”
At the same time, it portends a challenge to the American (older) political class trying to reason with young Americans – and future voters – if the momentum to crack down on TikTok builds.
Both Republicans and Democrats, especially in the Senate, have expressed skepticism that TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance is or can remain independent of the Chinese government, especially if the CCP tries to force the company to share data about its American users or spread propaganda and disinformation specifically for the American. audience. Lawmakers such as Senator Mark Warner of Virginia (Democrat) and Marco Rubio of Florida (Republican) see the threat as a national security threat: prohibitions applications on government networks, and Warner advised parents to prevent their children from using the app.
Much of the concern has to do with TikTok’s unique audience: more two thirds of teenagers the application is used in the USA and by young people under 30 years old pluralize of its user base, a larger share than Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or Reddit. Coincidentally, these people will form part of the majority of the new American electorate in the next decade.
This makeover also presents a test for US legislators and their possible campaigns: how do you explain to the many young people who use this app every day why you want to ban their favorite app? TikTok videos and comment sections are already filled with discussions about how concerned users should be that a foreign government has information about them. Many conversations end with an agreement that privacy is worth a trade-off in exchange for app access, and suggest ways to avoid a potential ban.
“They don’t like other countries collecting our data, they just want US companies to collect data for the government,” one comment said. TikTok reporter video explaining attempts to ban TikTok.
“You should [be concerned] if you look at what China is doing with tiktok,” another conversation begins. video discussing the ban. “Please tell us what… they are doing with Google, [YouTube] and Facebook don’t work,” another user replies.
Beyond convincing younger users, how do you reach a generation of people who no longer trust the government, feel no connection to elected representatives, and are deeply misunderstood by the political class, while effectively eliminating one of the biggest avenues for reaching these people where they are?
While a blanket ban on TikTok in the United States is on the horizon, efforts to scrutinize ByteDance have intensified this year, especially at the state level, where more than a dozen states have banned the app on state or public networks. What started as Rubio’s only attempt to get a federal agency to investigate ByteDance’s purchase of TikTok predecessor Musical.ly has now grown into a bipartisan consensus issue with support from lawmakers from both parties, both houses of Congress, and the latest and incumbent presidential administration.
But there is an obvious problem here. TikTok is very popular among young people, and the last time a wider ban was introduced by Donald Trump was in 2020. it didn’t go well with youth, although evidence and skepticism have increased since then. In general, data privacy issues that the old policies only refer to don’t seem to worry young people who are accustomed to being followed and observed. Teens are especially loyal to the app, with almost 60% of teens reporting using the app. daily, and about one in six uses it consistently throughout the day. A large number of teenagers also say that it would be difficult for them to give up social media altogether.
In the middle of the year, many candidates, political organizations, and youth outreach groups at the federal and local levels relied on TikTok to reach the millions of young people using the app. “While it’s a game, you have to be in the arena,” said Colton Hess, founder of one such advocacy group (called Tok the Vote). Associated Press in September. TikTok has helped his voter registration efforts reach tens of millions, he says.
TikTok should also be the next frontier for candidates and youth outreach campaigns, Jennifer Fernandez Ancona, vice president and co-founder of progressive group Way to Win, told me when I spoke to her about the lessons. interim dates of 2022 proposed to reach young voters.
“Young people get information in very different ways, so it’s important that we reach out to these people in places where they actually get information,” she said. A handful of politicians are already doing this, but young voter experts say more work needs to be done. “As we invest in new media platforms, social influencers on TikTok who have an audience and want to be able to tell their audience about things, we have to invest in these people and support their work,” Ancona said.
As early as 2020 and 2022, the Democrats love Ohio’s Senate nominee. Tim RyanSen. Ed Markey in Massachusetts, Sept. Bernie Sanders in Vermont and Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke used the app to increase their name recognition, talk about Congressional politics, and participate in trends popular with young people. Many of them benefited from this voting recognition, winning a strong majority of voters under 30, the group of voters least likely to turn out, they were loyal to political parties and trusted politicians. How future campaigns, advocacy groups and government leaders plan to reach these people without a tool like TikTok remains to be seen.
Ahead of the year of divided government, stricter regulation and restrictions on TikTok could be one of the few policies moving forward with bipartisan support. Politicians would be wise to address young audiences in advance to explain this.