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US Passes Bill Threatening to Ban TikTok: China Responds with Criticism


The popularity of social media platforms, including TikTok (formerly Musically), has been increasing. Over time, TikTok has undergone changes impacting both its platform dynamics and user demographics. Initially, Musically predominantly attracted teenagers and young adults who shared videos of dancing or lip-syncing to popular audio tracks, which many now find embarrassing or "cringe-worthy". However, TikTok's user base has diversified to include individuals across various age groups. This demographic change was the result of Musically’s rebranding efforts, which encompassed aspects like refining the platform's interface, improving video editing capabilities, and increasing video durations. These changes coincided with the emergence of Generation Z, who were seeking new forms of entertainment.


TikTok now hosts a diverse array of content, ranging from fashion and makeup tutorials to house tours and social justice movements. One distinguished feature of TikTok is its algorithm, which creates personalized "For You" and "Explore" pages, resulting in a safe place in social media due to content discovery based on users' interests. All of these qualities together help TikTok attract more users and rise in popularity.


Wang Wenbin

These factors have led to TikTok's growing popularity and widespread adoption among users. Nonetheless, a recent bill passed by the US House of Representatives presents a potential threat to TikTok's presence in the country. The bill proposes a nationwide ban on TikTok if its Chinese owner, ByteDance, declines to sell the app to a US company approved by the government. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated that “The bill passed by the US House of Representatives puts the US on the opposite side of the principle of fair competition and international economic and trade rules,” criticizing the bill.


Yet, American social media platforms such as Google, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube have faced limitations in China for an extended period because of concerns related to data collection policies and content censorship, as dictated by the Chinese government. Google pulled out from mainland China after operating in the country for four years, on the basis that they were no longer inclined to continue censoring results on Google.cn and that they suffered from Chinese-originated hacks, similar to some other US businesses.


Numerous citizens, including Brock Silvers, managing director at Kaiyuan Capital, have shared their perspectives on the matter. He finds China’s displeasure ironic, noting similarities between the current situation and Google's withdrawal from China a decade ago. When questioned about China's position on US applications, Wang responded, "this is completely different" and "you can clearly see what is bullying and what is gangster logic."


The focus has shifted to the US Senate, where lawmakers are currently evaluating the legislation. Should the bill advance to President Joe Biden, he has made it clear that he would sign it.


Legislators and US officials have long voiced concerns about TikTok's possible national security dangers, including fears of data sharing with the Chinese government or manipulation of platform content. Nevertheless, TikTok has consistently denied the allegations.


Following the House vote, the Chinese Commerce Ministry expressed that they would take “all necessary measures” to safeguard the country's interests regarding TikTok. Since 2020, the Chinese government has taken action to ensure it can veto any ByteDance transaction, reflecting the value placed on TikTok's technology. Consequently, the government firmly opposes any forced sale of TikTok.


The recent attempt by the US government to force the sale of TikTok is not the first instance, as similar efforts were made by the Trump administration in 2020. In response, Beijing expanded its export control regulations to cover technologies it deemed sensitive, including those potentially related to TikTok's customized information recommendation services. Years later, in March 2023, a spokesperson for the Commerce Ministry stated that China would reject any forced sale of TikTok since approval would require exporting technology, which would require Chinese government approval. This was the government's first official comment on the issue, and the stance remains unchanged.


As mentioned before, one of the keys to TikTok’s success is its AI-supported algorithm, which comes up with suggestions based on user activity, encouraging people to continuously watch content. The incident is expected to exacerbate tensions between Beijing and Washington, as the two countries are already embroiled in a growing dispute over access to cutting-edge technology like computer chips and artificial intelligence.


Hence, it appears that both China and the US are firm in their positions, which may signal the end of TikTok’s popularity in the US. Furthermore, the ban on TikTok could set a precedent for other Chinese-owned apps currently functioning in the US. The most recent TikTok episode emphasizes the necessity of a far stronger regulatory structure in the US to handle existential problems caused by large tech companies in general.


Works Cited

He, Laura. “Analysis: If the US Bans TikTok, China Will Be Getting a Taste of Its Own Medicine | CNN Business.” CNN, 14 Mar. 2024.

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