The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Monday, April 22, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Forcing the sale of TikTok ignores the bigger issue of cybersecurity

You_20230409_opinion-jeff-jackson-tiktok-2.jpg
DTH Photo Illustration. House Rep. Jeff Jackson is using his TikTok platform to advertise his campaign.

On March 13, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, intending for the Beijing-based company ByteDance to sell TikTok within the next six months.

If this split does not happen, U.S. app stores will be forced to remove TikTok from their platforms. Lawmakers and Congress are worried about a national security risk from TikTok, as the app can spread disinformation and tap into confidential data of Americans. Notable political opponents agreed and passed 352 to 65 in the House of Representatives, one of few recent bipartisan decisions. President Biden also stated he would sign this bill into law if the Senate passed it.

Why is bill banning a popular app the only partisan thing our polarized Democratic and Republican parties seem to agree on, aside from passing funding so the country doesn’t shut down? Ironically, these politicians, all over 25 years old, across opposing parties see eye-to-eye on an app primarily used by people aged 30 and under.Hot topics of greater importance dominate the political landscape, such as Russia’s war with Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, abortion and immigration. However, due to the extreme partisan nature of today’s political climate, no wide-scale issue with a permanent solution seems to get passed.

Despite these more pressing issues, the House came together on a bill over TikTok.

These lawmakers’ primary concerns are security and American citizens’ data and information. The law would separate TikTok from its parent company, and if ByteDance does not sell, new users would not be able to download the app. However, current users would still be able to access it. The idea of restricting a vital part of modern communication mirrors American politicians’ fears of the Chinese Communist Party's censorship.

During TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s hearing with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Senator Tom Cotton grilled Chew with questions about his nationality. Cotton failed to understand that Chew was a Singaporean military veteran, not a Chinese citizen, or as Cotton probed for, a member of the CCP. Lawmakers repeatedly questioned Chew about his app and its software, but demonstrated a lack of understanding of the app and cybersecurity themselves, for instance information about filters and parental controls. If members of Congress cannot comprehend the most basic tenets of cybersecurity, how can they effectively make laws about it?

We are in an unprecedented time with national security. The Constitution did not include sections about the internet or any issues pertaining to it. While selling or banning TikTok would prevent ByteDance from having access, it would not make a substantial long-term change regarding all national security online. The new owner could still access all the same user data and illegally transfer that information. Social media is not going away. A new app, just like TikTok (remember Vine?), could come out to fill a gap in the market.

ByteDance could also even pursue a near-clone of TikTok itself. Musical.ly — a social media platform considered TikTok's predecessor — was bought by ByteDance and then absorbed by TikTok. Musical.ly accounts became TikTok accounts and a new, but similar app dominated the social media market yet again.

Selling TikTok to an American-based company would do little but prevent Congress' concerns about Chinese ownership and could make things worse by leading to monopolistic behavior, as realistically, only mega firms like Meta or Google would have enough capital to purchase it. This could create antitrust opponents and hurt American businesses themselves.

Americans and politicians should attempt to look at the bigger picture of privacy and data in the digital world. Instead of attacking the surface issues of internet safety, lawmakers should regulate social media and the overall privacy of Americans online. If we want to prevent misinformation and uphold democracy, politicians should recognize our world how it is today and strive to compromise and grow with the times, instead of turning to strict bans and regulations.

@acperry

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.