by Marina Pitofsky
Bans and restrictions on the popular social media app TikTok are spreading at the state and federal levels, with some lawmakers seeking to block TikTok in the United States.
The U.S. Senate this week approved legislation to ban the use of the video platform on government devices. Some state lawmakers have blocked TikTok on state devices too, and officials in the Senate and House also introduced legislation to block TikTok from coast to coast.
But why are lawmakers focused on the app that many Americans know as a place where teenagers learn viral dance challenges? Here’s what you need to know.
Why do officials care about TikTok?
Critics of TikTok fear that the Chinese government could gain access to information through the app or use it to spread misinformation. That’s because TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. For example:
- FBI Director Christopher Wray earlier this month said the bureau was concerned with Chinese officials controlling the app’s algorithm and argued that China could use the app to view data on users.
- Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called TikTok “an enormous threat” in an interview earlier this year.
But there has been debate over whether Chinese officials are actively collecting TikTok data, or that China could actually gain an advantage from information sourced from the app.
Are all of the TikTok bans the same?
No, different lawmakers are asking for different actions targeting the social media app. Some of the moves go further than others.
State lawmakers have mostly restricted TikTok from devices controlled or issued by a state government. Some of the states that have taken action include:
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
The U.S. armed forces have also banned TikTok on devices from the military.
At the federal level, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced legislation to ban TikTok from operating in the U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., sponsored companion legislation in the U.S. House.
Also at the federal level, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced legislation to ban TikTok on government devices. That legislation was passed this week with unanimous consent, meaning no senators objected to the legislation.
How many people use TikTok?
The app said last year that more than one billion people around the world use TikTok every month. The average American user watched TikTok for 80 minutes a day, The Washington Post reported.
Approximately 67% of U.S. teenagers say they ever use TikTok, according to the Pew Research Center.
Has the US tried to ban TikTok before?
Yes, former President Donald Trump issued orders focused on Chinese tech companies. The orders tried to block new users from downloading TikTok or WeChat, a messaging app, but the orders failed in court.
The Senate also passed a bill in 2020 to ban TikTok, but it never passed in the House.
What does TikTok say about the bans?
TikTok in a statement to USA TODAY this week called Rubio’s proposed legislation “politically motivated.”
“TikTok is loved by millions of Americans who use the platform to learn, grow their businesses, and connect with creative content that brings them joy,” said Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson. “We will continue to brief members of Congress on the plans that have been developed under the oversight of our country’s top national security agencies – plans that we are well underway in implementing – to further secure our platform in the United States.”
USA TODAY has reached out to TikTok for comment on this story.
What’s next for TikTok in the US?
President Joe Biden has ordered the Commerce Department to review security concerns. U.S. officials and the company have been in talks about a potential agreement to resolve security concerns for people living in America.
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