The Unusual Alliance Forming to Defend TikTok

The 2 events that management Congress not often agree on a lot, whether or not it is weapons, the border, or the right way to construction the federal finances.

On the subject of pending laws to ban the social media app TikTok, nonetheless, the battle traces between Republicans and Democrats are significantly much less clear.

For months, conservatives round the US have spearheaded efforts to ban the video-based app over TikTok’s ties to Chinese language firm ByteDance, and its seemingly compliance with an opaque legislation within the nation requiring all firms inside its border to share all consumer information that could possibly be deemed related to nationwide safety.

State governments in primarily pink states like Texas and South Carolina shortly moved to ban the app from state-owned units—citing safety issues—whereas in Congress, many Republican members started pushing to ban the app from the nation totally.

Progressive New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (L) and far-right Fox Information host Tucker Carlson (R) have emerged as two unlikely allies in efforts to stop laws banning the Chinese language-owned social media app TikTok.
Drew Angerer/Jason Koerner/Newsweek Photograph Illustration/Getty Pictures

In December, nonetheless, retailers like Al Jazeera reported the liberal stronghold of Washington State was planning to impose its personal ban on the applying on government-owned units whereas, later that month, Kansas’ governor grew to become the primary Democrat within the U.S. to challenge their very own ban.

By February, Colorado Democratic Senator Michael Bennet was already calling for a nationwide ban and, the next month, a bipartisan group in Congress launched laws searching for to ban the app totally. TikTok later claimed President Joe Biden—who signed laws banning the app from government-owned units late final 12 months—had actively warned the corporate he would assist an effort to ban the app except its father or mother firm divested from TikTok totally, drawing pushback from the corporate.

“If defending nationwide safety is the target, divestment does not remedy the issue,” TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan advised CNN in a press release. “A change in possession wouldn’t impose any new restrictions on information flows or entry. The easiest way to handle issues about nationwide safety is with the clear, US-based safety of US consumer information and programs, with strong third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we’re already implementing.”

Newsweek reached out to TikTok’s press workplace through electronic mail for remark.

As Congress probably rushes headlong into an effort to ban the app totally, nonetheless, a bipartisan group has emerged that opposes the ban, citing issues over limiting free speech and alienating younger voters.

In a ground speech Wednesday night time, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul emerged as one of many first Republican opponents of the invoice, claiming it could set a harmful precedent of censorship at a time conservatives have been already up in arms over content material moderation practices at social media firms like Fb and Twitter.

“The Republican technique to ban TikTok comes concurrently with GOP complaints of home social media firms canceling and censoring conservatives,” Paul wrote in a press release after his speech. “With no trace of irony, many of those similar ‘conservatives’ rail towards censorship, whereas advocating for presidency censorship towards social media apps they fear are influenced by the Chinese language.”

But it surely’s not simply free speech-supporting conservatives who oppose the invoice.

After a five-hour grilling of TikTok CEO Shou Chew by a bipartisan cross-section of Congress in Washington, D.C. final week, progressive New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined protests on Capitol Hill objecting to efforts to ban the app after publishing her personal TikTok—her first—highlighting the unprecedented nature of such an motion.

“The free speech implications of a ban should be a bigger a part of the dialog,” Aaron Terr, director of public coverage for the free speech group Basis for Particular person Rights and Expression advised Newsweek. “TikTok is a wildly standard automobile for expression for a whole bunch of thousands and thousands of People. When TikTok customers publish and eat content material on the platform, the First Modification protects them. We should always at all times be extremely skeptical of legal guidelines that limit our capacity to speak with one another on-line.”

Whereas former President Donald Trump was fast to make use of his govt energy to ban a number of Chinese language-owned purposes like AliPay from the U.S. on the finish of his time period, Congress itself had by no means taken steps to bar any social media platform from operation within the U.S. Crackdowns on platforms like 8Chan and even the white supremacist web site The Day by day Stormer got here as a substitute from the corporate’s respective internet hosting platforms.

Whereas members of Congress concern information may probably be leaked to the Chinese language authorities, Terr mentioned lawmakers have to date did not show clear and current nationwide safety issues that might warrant such a ban.

“We acknowledge that lawmakers have expressed issues concerning the menace to nationwide safety posed by TikTok sharing personal consumer information with the Chinese language authorities,” he added. “Nationwide safety threats cannot be waved away, however we can also’t take any authorities official’s claims at face worth. The federal government would want to point out concrete proof of great threats to nationwide safety and why a ban is important to mitigate them.”

Different platforms, like Fb, confronted comparatively paltry penalties for committing comparable transgressions to these TikTok is accused of, together with harvesting and promoting information to personal companies like Cambridge Analytica with the categorical intent of influencing the end result of U.S. elections.

“When it comes to TikTok’s conduct and its danger to nationwide safety, it poses above the identical menace that firms like Fb and Instagram, YouTube and Twitter pose,” New York Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman—one of many platform’s most vocal supporters in Congress—mentioned in a press convention final week defending the app.

“So let’s not marginalize and goal TikTok. Let’s have a complete dialog about laws that we want: federal laws to ensure individuals who use social media platforms are protected and their info is safe,” he mentioned.

Additional regarding to conservatives and liberals alike, nonetheless, have been fears that the laws would change into a type of “Trojan Horse” permitting the federal authorities important sway over what People have been allowed to say and listen to on-line.

By shifting to ban purposes deemed to assist “international adversaries”—just like the so-called “RESTRICT Act” being weighed by Congress particularly calls to do—some conservatives feared the invoice may set the groundwork to permit wanton censorship of any opinion the federal government did not agree with.

Within the occasion of the RESTRICT Act, fears embrace language permitting the federal authorities broad leeway to survey and monitor content material it deems as dangerous to U.S. nationwide safety or the integrity of U.S. elections with comparatively little oversight, drawing some comparisons by conservatives to the controversial U.S. Patriot Act handed within the wake of the September 11 terrorist assaults.

“This invoice is not actually about banning TikTok,” Fox Information host Tucker Carlson said on his present Wednesday night time. “It is by no means about what they are saying it’s. As an alternative, this invoice would give huge, terrifying new powers to the federal authorities to punish Americans and regulate how they impart with each other.”

Teams like FIRE agree.

“Proposals to ban TikTok as a result of it allegedly spreads propaganda or dangerous content material elevate essentially the most severe First Modification points,” mentioned Terr. “The federal government may simply prolong this rationale to any variety of digital platforms People use to talk their minds. In truth, calls to manage social media platforms like Twitter and Fb to cease the unfold of “hate speech” or “misinformation” have change into commonplace. However such content- and viewpoint-based restrictions on speech cannot be squared with the First Modification.”

Replace 03/30/23 6:00 p.m. ET: This text was up to date with remark from Aaron Terr.