Senator Josh Hawley, one of the loudest critics of tech companies, said this week he plans to introduce new legislation to ban TikTok throughout the country.
The app “is China’s backdoor into Americans’ lives,” the Missouri Republican tweeted this week.
“It threatens our children’s privacy as well as their mental health,” he added.
Hawley is hardly the only one to opine that TikTok could pose a security risk due to its ownership by the Chinese company ByteDance. And the app's parent company obviously mishandled data by spying on U.S. journalists. But it's not clear why Hawley is singling out TikTok as posing a unique threat to children's privacy or mental health, given the barrage of similar accusations that have been leveled at Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
In any event, Hawley isn't the first lawmaker to seek a ban on the app. Last year, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Illinois) proposed legislation that aimed to block transactions in the U.S. by social-media apps under the control of China, Russia and several other countries.
What's more, 31 states have banned the app from government devices, while state universities in Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma have blocked access on campus WiFi networks.
Those moves, while clearly reflecting anti-TikTok sentiment, seem to be at least partly for show, given that they don't prevent anyone from accessing the app. Students can still access TikTok via their cell networks, while state employees can always call up the app on their personal phones.
Any attempt by state or federal officials to go further and actually prevent people from accessing the app would almost certainly face First Amendment hurdles.
“There are people who are using TikTok every day, in order to express themselves to an existing community -- an audience that is interested in receiving that message,” longtime digital rights advocate Kurt Opsahl told MediaPost last year. “A total ban would cut those people off from that means of communications.”
He added that there were ways to mitigate security concerns short of outlawing the app.
The Washington Post likewise weighed in against a ban, arguing that any concerns can be dealt with through more limited measures.
“A country that cherishes free speech shouldn’t be eager to stamp out the ability of millions to express themselves on their site of choice,” the paper's editorial board wrote on Saturday. “The United States should also be wary of setting a worldwide precedent wherein a democracy blacklists firms based primarily on where they come from.”
Senator Hawley's concern regarding Tik Tok ... The app “is China’s backdoor into Americans’ lives,” ... is valid, but does he realise that such concern could have different, but parallel, concerns.
For example, in other countries it could be that 'America's backdoor into [insert country here]s' lives', could validly be of equal if not more concern.