The idea of banning TikTok is gaining popularity in the U.S. Several states have looked at or instituted various levels of bans of the much-used app, while the federal government prohibited the app’s use on its devices.

Montana’s lawmakers passed legislation to ban the app last week, with the bill heading to the governor’s desk. In Utah, state lawmakers limited access to social media for underage users. Meanwhile, federal lawmakers continue to propose legislation in Congress to limit the use of the Bejing-based app entirely, an issue that doesn’t have complete bipartisan support but cuts across party lines.

One bill, introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a vocal critic of the app, has sought to completely ban TikTok in the U.S., but a divided Congress has resisted that move.

Other proposed legislation that addresses limiting the influence of foreign companies has gained popularity among lawmakers. One bill, recently introduced, would give the president and commerce secretary the power to mitigate the effects of hardware, software and social media placed in the U.S. by countries that are “adversarial.”

Montana lawmakers voted in favor of banning TikTok. What happens next?

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a sponsor of the legislation, said on Twitter last week that countries around the world are regulating foreign technology, and the U.S. needs to do the same.

One of the countries that has already banned TikTok is India, which restricted the social media app in June 2020. India can be used as a case study to help us understand what the impact would be of banning a foreign-based and widely-used social media app in the U.S.

At the time of the ban, Indian lawmakers cited national security concerns as their reason for banning Chinese apps, similar to what U.S. lawmakers have said. The ban in India came after a deadly skirmish at the India-China border.

What happened in India?

India and China have clashed over the location of their shared border in the remote Himalayan region since 1962. “While the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separates the disputed territories, it is not an international boundary, and neither country agrees on its alignment,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

But three years ago, when India attempted to create a high-altitude air base in the region, it led to a violent confrontation where 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers died, according to BBC News.

Banning TikTok became a popular talking point in the wake of the clash.

In June 2020, hashtags like “#bantiktokinindia and “#indiansagainsttiktok” began popping up on Twitter.

The Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned nearly 60 China-based apps “to ensure safety and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace,” according to a statement at the time.

While TikTok had over 150 million Indian users at the time of the ban, the people I spoke to during my recent visit to New Delhi, India, seem to have forgotten all about the app and instead were fully invested in Instagram Reels, a short-format video feature similar to TikTok.

“I had to delete Instagram because I found myself quoting Reels and sounding stupid,” a friend from high school, 24, confessed about her pandemic-related guilty pleasure of memorizing sound bites from the short format videos.

Another 22-year-old acquaintance told me she began using the TikTok app closer to the start of lockdowns in 2020 to share videos and follow dance trends but the ban was implemented shortly thereafter. Now, she’s taken to Instagram.

Is banning TikTok anti-market?

The decision to ban the app in India may have been based on misdirected anger from what was happening at the border at the time, according to Megha Mishra, who co-authored a research paper about the TikTok ban in India.

“Technology is moving faster than we and our safeguards can evolve, but it’s very easy to cherry-pick one or two institutions, companies or platforms that are very easy to blame when you don’t address the problem.”

Mishra rhetorically compared banning the app in India to a military strike.

“But is it the right way? I don’t think so,” she said. “Is there an actual problem with the platform? Yes, but there’s a problem with every platform. Because these countries are in competition, I understand that they may have their own apprehensions or fears, but that still doesn’t allow them to go against the free market.”

Instagram Reels has gained a stronghold in the Indian content-creation market since TikTok’s forced exit, but some feel that the Beijing-based app has more to offer.

One former work colleague from India said he didn’t use TikTok before the ban but since he began writing about makeup techniques and products, he feels like he’s “missing out on a lot of firsthand information” because “most trends start on TikTok now” — an app that births viral songs, dances, challenges and products to a global market.

India is still dependent on China for technology hardware, including an array of exports, from telephones and computers to integrated circuits and electric batteries. China’s economy is five times larger than the Indian economy and so its dependence on Chinese exports likely isn’t going away anytime soon.

Should all apps be treated the same?

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who opposes Hawley’s proposal to ban TikTok in Congress, has argued the U.S. should treat all apps the same. “I think we should beware of those who use fear to coax Americans to relinquish our liberties,” he said on the Senate floor.

“Every accusation of data gathering that has been attributed to TikTok could also be attributed to domestic big tech companies,” he said, per Reuters.

Plus, TikTok still has “troves of personal data of Indian citizens” who used the app before the ban, according to a recent Forbes report.

While a spokesperson told Forbes TikTok was complying with the government of India, which does not have strong data privacy laws on the books, the report stated that profiles of Indian users were still available online, with all of the app’s tools frozen.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., also opposes a ban. Instead of allowing social media companies to harvest data without authorization, she suggested that the U.S. adopt better data privacy laws, similar to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, according to a TikTok video she posted the day of the committee hearing.

But conservative commentator Saagar Enjeti, who hosts the “Breaking Points” podcast, called this point of view “the worst pro-TikTok argument” on Twitter, saying that it conflates the practices of a Beijing-based app with Silicon Valley companies that are subject to U.S. laws and judicial system.

For example, Apple has refused to unlock an iPhone at the request of the FBI, but the same can’t be expected from TikTok, which is answerable to the Chinese Communist Party, Enjeti said.

Reports indicate TikTok user data is available to Chinese employees even though TikTok’s parent company ByteDance previously claimed that American user data was stored in the U.S.

The future of TikTok

View Comments

The video-sharing app isn’t squeaky clean, said Mishra, but neither is it the only platform collecting data and offering addictive algorithms that are detrimental to mental health, nor does banning it address data privacy laws.

But U.S. lawmakers continue to express their concerns about TikTok. At a committee hearing last month, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., grilled TikTok CEO Shou Chew on users’ privacy.

She questioned how national security concerns expressed by foreign governments and U.S. law enforcement agencies could be wrong. Chew said the risks were “hypothetical and theoretical,” adding, “I have not seen any evidence.”

Whether the U.S. goes the way of India and bans TikTok will likely hinge on whether national security concerns win out over the voices of those who argue the U.S. should do a better job across the board of protecting Americans’ privacy.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.