A TikTok ban will make for a very strange day on the internet

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In a party-line vote last week, the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee voted push a bill that would give President Biden the power to sanction or ban TikTok. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner over the weekend announced that in partnership with Republican John Thune, he will introduce a similar measure in the Senate.

This sudden jump to banning the platform outright follows years of debate over how to handle the rampant rise of the Chinese-owned platform, which has beaten its American rivals at their own game since its sudden emergence in 2018. That would be unprecedented. It could also throw the tech industry into chaos.

A total ban faces some political hurdles. Republicans are united in their calls for an outright ban on TikTok, which House committee chairman Michael McCaul has described as a “spy bubble on your phone.” (Representative Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, chose “digital fentanyl.”) Democrats are more divided on strategy. Some accept the ban, but no this type of ban; others, including Elizabeth Warren, have suggested dealing with TikTok through broader, industry regulation. The majority is following the Biden administration’s lead in delaying A ongoing investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in TikTok’s operations.

Still, it’s worth wondering what TikTok’s sudden demise really means. Since Donald Trump’s failure in 2020 to shut down the app and then force it to sell to an American company, there is pressure to do something continued to rise; The prospect has become more, not less, realistic as he steps down. Many states have enacted their own partial bans, restricting the use of TikTok in state facilities and colleges. Last week, the Biden administration announced that federal agencies have 30 days to remove TikTok from government devices. The United States military has banned the app for years. Similar limited bans are in place in parts of Europe and Canada. In 2020, as part of a large-scale crackdown on Chinese-owned online services, India banned the app entirely. TikTok, whose parent company ByteDance is headquartered in Beijing, no longer has a company in Washington. A more reliable attempt at a ban is only one major international incident or one presidential election.

A major motivating factor behind the push to ban TikTok is the app’s Chinese ownership and its alleged ties to the Chinese government; from this point of view it is a national security story. But the broader case against TikTok is familiar. It’s a social media app that demands and: collects content and personal information from millions of everyday US users who use the app on devices that collect and share information about their location and other habits. These same users are clearly affected in some way by the content they encounter in an app that serves them videos through an opaque system. It is loved by many of its users, for whom it is an unparalleled connection to the wider culture. For others, it’s a nightmare place full of conspiracies, disturbing content, and various mental health hazards; for a significant few, it is a source of employment and a place to quickly find large audiences. Basically, really, it’s a way for people to pass the time on their phones. It’s a fundamentally disturbing and disturbingly attractive approach to the commons, a massively profit-driven framework built around staggering amounts of human interaction in order to sell advertising, so ownership aside, it’s not fundamentally different from Facebook. Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, from which it has been mercilessly driving away users since 2018, and which in return shamelessly copy its key features to no avail.

TikTok’s alleged ties to the Chinese government are a serious issue, but here, too, the line between TikTok and its domestic competitors is not as clear as it might seem. the type of data that TikTok could collect and theoretically transfer to the Chinese. is the government is already available For procurement by America’s own technology companies through a wide range of loosely regulated data brokers. (The loudest voices against a possible ban come from outside the government and are mostly about speech and precedent: The ACLU has opposed the House bill on constitutional grounds; the progressive group Fight for the Future describes it as in vain and undermines and instead supports comprehensive regulation of social media privacy.)

Still, the ban makes an obvious appeal to lawmakers. The main concern with TikTok, that its parent company is subject to Chinese security laws that could force it to share user data with the government, is and has been. born with an investigative report. Public opinion around the influence of social media in general has softened somewhat, and taking action against TikTok is narratively and legally the simpler option. something about the impact of big tech, at least compared to a fundamentally regulatory approach. Taking aggressive action against American social media companies would be legally complex and politically difficult. TikTok’s ties to an already sanctioned government make it easier to crusade against it as part of a trade war or as an exceptional domestic relations issue, rather than something that US tech companies like these would otherwise have to worry about.

However, in practice, the ban would be a strange and alien experience for American Internet users; a major part of their daily digital routine has simply been erased from their phones, or at least made much more difficult to access.

The American tech industry will also enter uncharted territory. The Chinese government’s approach to the Internet was initially censorious. However, it was accompanied by an aggressive industrial policy aimed at boosting the domestic technology and internet industries, which would eventually lead to successful companies such as ByteDance. Banning TikTok would be a clumsy move in the same direction. It could open the door for TikTok’s homegrown competitor, or pave the way for a different kind of successor, whatever it may be. (Twitter arguably opened up TikTok when it killed off Vine, the struggling short-form video app that peaked at 100 million users in 2016.) predict than now TikTok (the app’s impact on the American music industry alone has been impossible to miss) Countless jobs related to social media will change in an instant. Some would disappear completely.

The implications get even weirder than that. Banning TikTok will act as a partial industrial policy. That could strengthen US tech giants, many of which are already under significant antitrust scrutiny from the federal government. TikTok’s success has come at Meta’s expense, and has already plunged the company into an existential crisis, as well as more subtle Temu and Shein, two Chinese-owned e-commerce companies that pose the first credible threat to Amazon in years, their owe much of their success to promotion on TikTok and would struggle without it. In other words, it could be a great day for domestic companies with many of the same politicians wanting to ban TikTok. was also in the war.

Or… maybe not. Critics and lawmakers who narrowly focus on “espionage” and “digital espionage” tend to either minimize or fail to really deal with how central TikTok has become to American internet and culture at large. It’s the envy of all its American competitors in almost every way, and while its disappearance may free up some advertising budgets that Meta, Google and Twitter have to take back, it may certainly create new opportunities for some of them. for, it can just as easily mark a sharp turn from a certain type of social media company. From the beginning, TikTok succeeded by taking a maximalist approach to the already dominant style of social media. It was Facebook and Instagram and Vine and Twitter and Snapchat, but more and less embarrassingly, the combination of every known engagement strategy and addictive feature in a product so blatantly aggressive and habit-forming that it defies criticism. Its peers have spent the last five years chasing it and failing to catch it, often losing their identities as well as their most active users in the process. TikTok’s success has breathed life into the last era of American social media companies that were already showing their age, leaving some of their products unrecognizable and unrecognizable. What TikTok users will be left with if it goes away is a collection of platforms that have been fundamentally restructured around TikTok’s existence; its disappearance, rather than saving them, may reveal how far they have lost their way.

A TikTok ban would, first of all, make for an incredibly strange day on the internet, something that would seem unbelievable to American internet users even as it was happening. It’s highly likely that it won’t be, among other possibilities, a forced sale to an American company, as happened with the dating app. Grindr 2020, could meet the needs of lawmakers without inviting as much backlash. But don’t think it can’t.

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