The Battle Between Trump and TikTok
BY: Isabella Gattuso
On Friday, Donald Trump announced he would officially ban TikTok and WeChat by November 12th after months of speculation over its national security risks. TikTok is a popular social media app featuring users dancing accompanied by or lip-syncing to popular songs. WeChat is a messaging app that can be used to send payments, videos, and pictures. Each has millions of users in the United States.
The ban was first set to take place on September 20th at midnight, which would erase both apps from the app store. Users who already had the apps would continue to be able to use it but would miss (possibly crucial) updates as time went on, rendering the apps useless as they lagged Google and Apple software. However, Tiktok’s clock has been prolonged until November 12th, past election day, and giving the company enough time to negotiate with American companies on how to operate any further.
Earlier this summer, Trump revealed he was considering banning Chinese social media apps and signed two executive orders: one to block ByteDance and Tencent, the parent companies of TikTok and WeChat; and another requiring ByteDance to sell its U.S. TikTok business to an American company and destroy all American data.
Oracle, Walmart, and Microsoft all expressed interest in buying the app but talks with Microsoft fell through after it was reported Microsoft was willing to buy the company for $30 billion. Trump has now “given his blessing” for Walmart and Oracle to team up to create TikTok Global, a company centered in the United States. ByteDance would still hold majority ownership. Walmart and Oracle have also touted the possible benefits to both the U.S. economy and users, including a new educational curriculum, 25,000 new jobs, and $5 billion in taxes.
The Department of Commerce also authorized the ban, finding that the apps both collected data on its users, including location, activity, and history. Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary, issued an announcement that also found that “The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the U.S” and would take any preventative measures to limit the CCP’s access to such vulnerable data. ByteDance has vehemently denied any allegations of the CCP using its data.
The move has already attracted criticism from economists, politicians, and the apps’ users alike. Economists claim further instigation with China would hurt trade relationships. China and the U.S. already have a tenuous economic relationship: the two have been in a trade war since 2018, where U.S. consumers have been taking the hardest hits.
One analyst found that Apple would lose 30% of its international sales if WeChat were to disappear. Another report found that 86% of American companies would experience negative effects on their trade with China if consumers worldwide were worried about the stability of their products. This fear is becoming increasingly realistic as China has threatened to impose sanctions on U.S. technology companies if the ban were to continue.
Others claim the deal Trump “blessed” is ineffective. While TikTok Global seems to be a palatable solution, ByteDance would still hold a majority of TikTok and would probably still have to interact with TikTok Global to discuss issues that would eventually overlap into personal data. This deal also does not satisfy the recommendations of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States due to ByteDance owning most of the company.
Users are also protesting the ban on both apps. In India (where TikTok was banned on June 29), one user described it as, “[Losing] the last sunny corner of the Internet”. Another study found that 83% of users did not care about the app’s connection to China.
TikTok’s multiple genres provided distractions, stories, activism, and connections that people just aren’t ready to give up. The same applies to WeChat. As one of the most popular messaging apps serving the U.S.’s Chinese population, many would lose opportunities to communicate with Chinese families and friends as other apps, such as Facebook and Instagram are banned.
Although the rationale behind the decision is fair, the effects would be detrimental to consumers and tech companies alike. The U.S. has been victim to (larger) attacks from China (both through cybersecurity and the economy) for years and cannot use a straw man maneuver that would provide mostly negative effects.
Instead of banning an app that caters to so many people within the U.S., they could also take preventative measures to strengthen current cybersecurity measures and improve flaws in operating systems. Luckily, TikTok and Trump seem to be open to negotiations which will hopefully provide a compromise that will be able to rework the app’s existence in the U.S. to benefit consumers, instead of provoking another petty trade war.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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