Impending Tik Tok Ban: a Symbol of Escalating Tensions between the US and China?


The Social Media platform Tik Tok took the world by storm in 2016 with its short form video hosting service. Since then, the giant has gradually expanded. It was recorded as being the most downloaded apps in the United States in October 2018 and as of February 2024, it has been downloaded approximately 4.7 billion times worldwide. 

Why are lawmakers considering a ban?

This expansion greatly alarmed US lawmakers for one main reason: Tik Tok’s parent company, DreamByte, is based in China. Such association created scepticism within House legislators, believing that the parent company could be mining user’s data. Additionally, content on the app appeared to be influencing Americans, especially children, as it allegedly encouraged eating disorders, illegal drug sales and sexual exploitation. 

Tik Tok dismissed such accusations by stating that there was no way in which user’s data and privacy could be breached because information was stored in Singapore and not in China. Furthermore, this data is processed through Cloud infrastructure operated by Oracle (under Project Texas), an American company which ensures that damaging content is not propagated. 

However, such arguments did not reassure US legislators whose concerns were heightened when it was discovered that China based employees had accessed non-public information about Tik Tok users in 2022. In 2023, Tik Tok CEO Shou Zi Chew was called before Congress to reiterate such arguments, however his 5 hour testimony did little to alleviate US concerns. The growing concerns over Tik Tok eventually culminated in the quiet proposal of the House urging for its ban.

Where did ideas of the ban stem from? 

It is well known that US concerns over Tik Tok have slowly grown over the years, however, the “Anti Tik Tok Crusade” began with Trump’s 2020 executive order attempting to ban the application. This executive order alongside subsequent attempts by States such as Montana were blocked by courts on the basis that they violated the First Amendment (Congress may not make any law which will abridge the freedom of speech or press). 

Nevertheless, the app was banned on US government issued phones in 2022 and as of 2023 at least 50 US universities have blocked Tik Tok from being accessed through university owned wifi and computers. Nevertheless, the present House Bill arises as the most promising attack in the battle against Tik Tok. 

The March 13th Tik Tok House Bill titled “The Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” passed with an overwhelming majority of 352-65 in a bipartisan vote. It is not put forth as an outright ban but rather an ultimatum for Dream Byte to either sell the application to a Western Company by September or be kicked out of the app store. Even with its passing in the House, the bill holds an uncertain fate as just days later on March 15th, the Senate sought to slow down its evolution, urging for more cautious deliberation on what effect this prohibition will have on more than 100 million US users. 

Some Democrats and Republicans alike oppose a slow down on Tik Tok discussions as this could kill the momentum and subsequent chance for approval in the Senate. This is because the legislative process in the US is characterised by perfect bicameralism where both the House and the Senate must be in agreement in order for a decision to be made.

Nonetheless, some Democrats are not opposed to this delay as a swift implementation could lose them a majority of votes which come from the Youth. Ultimately, if the proposal does pass both Chambers, Joe Biden has vouched to sign it into law. 

Will it be feasible to execute such a bill if it is passed? 

Even if the ban does end up passing the Senate in the near future, there are concerns of how this would be enforced. The proposal outlines that for every day that the app is made available to download, the app stores will be penalised accordingly. However, the bill fails to account for how it will tackle the problem of users who have already downloaded the app. Furthermore, even if the app is no longer made available on app stores, people may just use VPNs in order to bypass regional restrictions and still download the app. 

Ultimately, the decentralised nature of the USA leaves the question of enforcement uncertain as in order to fully limit access to Tik Tok, the internet itself may need to be restructured in a way similar to China and Iran where the State makes content restrictions more easily enforceable. If such an implementation were to be reached to ensure the full ban on Tik Tok, serious questions will arise on the possible infringement of freedom of speech and expression.

What do experts believe this looming ban could mean for US China relations? 

US legislators alongside the White House believe that selling Tik Tok to a “qualified buyer” would solve the problem of Chinese influence, however some wonder whether this Bill is just the beginning of a process that would open doors for the banning of other Chinese applications such as Temu and Shein. 

CNBC’s Squawk Box stated that this ban could trigger retaliatory actions from China that would impact American companies which are deeply embedded within Chinese markets. Just in 2023, Apple recorded a 12.9% drop in revenue from its previous year and Tesla reported its heavy reliance on the Chinese market, deriving $21.75 billion dollars in revenue from it. In response to the Tik Tok ban, Chinese authorities could demand American companies to desist from Chinese territory, leading to potentially devastating economic consequences.

To conclude, much remains to be seen on the evolution and implementation of the ban. With looming US elections, the fate and subsequent Chinese response to the bill will depend on its mode of implementation. 


Vanessa Chioaru
Vanessa Chioaru
Hi! I’m Vanessa and I am from Romania. I am a dedicated first year law student who thorughly enjoys creative writing and debating. Being able to report on core issues concerning today’s society while offering a critical perspective is a passion I am excited to enrich through my work at the Stork.

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