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The Quad: Exploring the implications of the Trump administration’s TikTok ban

Two executive orders issued by Trump state the ban of popular social media apps, TikTok and WeChat. (Photo by Ashley Kenney/Assistant Photo editor, Photo illustration by Emily Dembinski/Illustrations director)

By Audrey Pham

Aug. 20, 2020 5:27 p.m.

Bruins, it might be time to say goodbye to one of your favorite quarantine pastimes.

No, I’m not talking about Dalgona coffee or Animal Crossing. I’m talking about TikTok.

TikTok, for the unfamiliar, is a social networking mobile application that specializes in short-form video creating and sharing. Users post 15-60 second videos ranging from dances to comedic skits to everything in between. But TikTok is in trouble.

TikTok is owned by Beijing-based technology company ByteDance – the same company that the U.S. Senate voted Aug. 6 to ban on all government devices in the United States. What’s more, the Senate decision was followed by two executive orders issued by President Trump that same day, one of which singled out TikTok specifically.

“(The) spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in China continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” the executive order reads. “At this time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by one mobile application in particular, TikTok.”

According to the executive order, any American transaction involving ByteDance or its subsidiaries will be banned within 45 days. Thus, for TikTok to survive in the United States, it must be sold by its parent company before the deadline.

In response to the executive order, TikTok is planning to challenge Trump’s actions and sue the Trump administration. According to National Public Radio, the lawsuit will be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, which is where the company’s American operations are based.

This ban from the Trump administration comes in the wake of data mining concerns, particularly TikTok’s collection of user data – including location data and browsing and search histories.

This is no secret, though, as TikTok lists these as well as other forms of user data it collects on the privacy policy on its website.

Moreover, there is debate about whether TikTok is collecting any more data than any other social media site. According to some, TikTok is likely not collecting any more data than Facebook or Instagram. Others say it might even be collecting less than some American social media sites.

However, it appears to be more a matter of what TikTok is doing with this data, specifically the potential to share information with the Chinese Communist Party, that is the focus of the executive order.

In fact, China’s national security laws, namely the 2017 National Intelligence Law, do allow the government to, in theory, demand ByteDance to hand over information. Whether this is cause for real concern is another matter of debate.

But one thing is for certain: TikTok is a part of the lives of many Bruins, and its ban would not pass through without an impact.

Camille Schaefer, a third-year public affairs student, mainly watches TikToks for fun, although she has made a few in the past for close friends. She said she is doubtful that the TikTok ban will go into effect.

“But, if it somehow does disappear, I will be super disappointed,” Schaefer said.

Indeed, many of TikTok’s users turned to the app in order to find solace in a time of uncertainty, namely the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting quarantine. During the pandemic, the app saw an increase of more than 12 million users in the United States alone. The average time spent on TikTok increased by 26.2% from January 2020, totaling to about 14 hours and 18 minutes.

“Sending TikToks to my friends throughout March, April and May was one of the only reasons I kept in touch with some people,” Schaefer said.

But TikTok wasn’t just a way to make quarantine a little less lonely. For some students, the app also became an outlet for self-expression through content-creating.

Jonathan Tsai, a second-year English and music history and industry student, began posting music videos featuring his original songs during quarantine.

TikTok has definitely been a huge part of my life and has helped me find friends and a community of people that also appreciate my music,” Tsai said. “It’s weird to say that because a couple months ago, I thought I was too mature for TikTok, but it has been a life changer because (it’s) given me all these different opportunities for my music.”

Alongside these students, there are probably other Bruins who have never opened the app. But at the very least, among all this uncertainty about data and about things probably best reserved for the experts, I can confidently say that for at least some of us, losing TikTok would be a major bummer.

(If) Trump does take away TikTok, I think he’s taking away a really important outlet for people to share their ideas and be social without being physically there,” Tsai said.

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Audrey Pham
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