How the US Could Ban TikTok in 7 Not-So-Easy Steps

Former president Trump tried and failed to ban the app. Now US lawmakers from both parties are preparing legislation they say can finish the job.

TIKTOK’S GROWTH SPURT early in the pandemic alarmed not only competing social networks but also the US government. Could the video sharing app, owned by Beijing’s ByteDance, be turning over the locations or personal interests of its nearly 100 million US users to the Chinese government? Could the Chinese government order TikTok to manipulate American minds spending hours flipping through clips? The app quickly became a convenient target for US officials sparring for attention and taking on China. 

Three years later no one has yet presented evidence of China exploiting TikTok to attack the US, but lawmakers are planning to introduce legislation to Congress this month that would open the way for President Biden to ban the app altogether.

Like a good TikTok stunt, US politicians could be staging theatrics to appeal to their audience. But there is bipartisan interest in moving against the company. TikTok is sending its low-profile CEO, Shou Zi Chew, to testify to Congress on March 23 and attempting to appease US officials by moving data and workers to the United States. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Some observers expect Washington to take action. “We will see limitations this year,” says Mira Ricardel, a former White House deputy national security adviser now at the Chertoff Group advising businesses on regulations. “There is a unanimity of view that will lead to doing something.” Here is what that something may look like.

Study How India Trampled TikTok

Government restrictions on apps or online services are rare in the US. India’s approach could be instructive for US lawmakers, because the country banned TikTok in June 2020 in the world’s biggest crackdown on the service.

India’s government ordered TikTok to withdraw from the country, required Google and Apple to disable downloads of it from their app stores, and forced internet service providers to block connections to the service. Iran, Jordan, and Uzbekistan also have prevented access to TikTok, according to NetBlocks, an organization tracking internet censorship.


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