Why Countries Are Trying to Ban TikTok

In January, a Republican senator, Josh Hawley of Missouri, introduced a bill to ban TikTok for all Americans after pushing for a measure, which passed in December as part of a spending package, that banned TikTok on all devices issued by the federal government. A separate bipartisan bill, introduced in December, also sought to ban TikTok and target any similar social media companies from countries like Russia and Iran.

It’s been largely quiet, though the White House pointed to an ongoing review just this week, in response to questions about TikTok. TikTok has been in years long confidential talks with the administration’s review panel, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, to address questions about TikTok and ByteDance’s relationship with the Chinese government and its handling of user data. TikTok has said that it has heard close to nothing since its August submission of a 90-page proposal detailing how it plans to operate in the United States while addressing national security concerns.

Most of the existing TikTok bans have been implemented at governments and universities that have the power to keep an app off their devices or networks.

A broader, government-imposed ban that stops Americans from using an app that allows them to share their views and art could face legal challenges on First Amendment grounds, said Caitlin Chin, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. After all, large numbers of Americans, including elected officials and major news organizations like The New York Times and The Washington Post, now produce videos on TikTok.

“In democratic governments, the government can’t just ban free speech or expression without very strong and tailored grounds to do so and it’s just not clear that we have that yet,” said Ms. Chin.

The exact mechanism for banning an app on privately owned phones is unclear.

Ms. Chin said that the United States could block TikTok from selling advertisements or making updates to its systems, essentially making it nonfunctional.

Apple and other companies that operate app stores do block downloads of apps that are no longer working. They also ban apps that carry inappropriate or illegal content, said Justin Cappos, a professor at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering.

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