Tick, Tock: Midnight Approaches for TikTok’s US Doomsday Clock

As congress once again moves to restrict or ban TikTok, the global public is once again debating the motivations behind such a move and implications for the app’s future.

Valerie Chen and Ryan Rulkens

Following the recent congressional hearing about TikTok, Montana has moved to ban TikTok statewide. Montana’s House of Representatives passed a bill to ban TikTok following a 54 to 43 vote. Now, the future of this bill depends on Montana’s governor, Greg Gianforte, who has the power to veto it. If the ban does take effect, app stores like Apple and Google would remove TikTok, but users who have downloaded the app before the ban takes place in January of 2024 will still have access.

While Montana is the first example of a state ban in the US on TikTok, previously in December of 2022, President Biden signed into law the removal of TikTok on all government devices. Additionally, some universities like UT Austin have also opted to prevent access when using school Wi-Fi.

Why are lawmakers trying to ban TikTok? TikTok has over 150 million users from whom they can access data. Due to TikTok’s connection with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through its China-based parent company, ByteDance, there is a security concern for potential data transfer to the Chinese government as ByteDance would have to follow Chinese laws. These laws give the CCP access to data if they request it. Ironically enough, lawmakers were okay with simply forcing TikTok to sell to an American company, emphasizing that this debate was motivated to some extent by the country of ownership.

As pressure mounted over the extent of Chinese influence in the app during the 2020 debates, TikTok agreed to relocate all US user data to domestic servers by the end of the year. Though such a move would allow US firms to monitor TikTok’s source code and ensure no foul play, questions have been raised over the years about the logistics of such a move, particularly given the vast amount of source data needed to scrub through in a relatively short amount of time.

As tension mounted up in the house, legislation against the Chinese company was met with mockery from Chinese and American individuals alike. Back in February, when the federal government insisted federal employees remove TikTok from their devices, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning mocked the move, citing attempts to restrict TikTok as irrational fears over a children’s app. The West has been similarly fast to point out the irony; household names have repeatedly mocked Congress’ bizarre line of questioning:

Banning TikTok but not guns seems very on brand for America.

— Madonna, who famously posted the sarcastic remark

So, where does the fate of TikTok stand? The simple answer: no one knows.Though other states like Montana could continue to pass laws restricting accessibility of the app, TikTok’s wide fan base in the US would make a complete ban unthinkable to many citizens, while also being viewed by many as an overexertion of federal power. However, contradictions between federal views on TikTok and those of the general public highlight just how wide the split between people of governance has grown, and as hundreds of millions of individuals could lose access to the beloved app at the snap of a finger, this split have been placed at the forefront of the American psyche like never before.