Understanding the impact of the potential 2024 TikTok ban on users and creators

Making papers in March 2024, one of the U.S. House committees voted unanimously to pass a bipartisan legislation that could ban the popular video-sharing platform TikTok. 

TikTok began in September 2016, where short lip-syncing videos reigned supreme and kids posted a lot of funny content. 

Since its creation, TikTok has had many run-ins with potential bans starting from as far back as 2020. 

“There’s a lot of good and there’s a lot of bad with TikTok,” former president Donald Trump said on CNBC television.

Trump, at the time, viewed the app as a national security threat.

Small businesses using TikTok during 2023 earned around $15 million in revenue for the year, and 40 percent of the small business owners declared that TikTok is critical for their existence. 

But what does all of this actually mean?

Let’s break it down. 

The bill is titled the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act.” 

“This bill prohibits distributing, maintaining, or providing internet hosting services for a foreign adversary controlled application (e.g., TikTok),” according to the official U.S. Congress website. “Under the bill, a foreign adversary controlled application is directly or indirectly operated by (1) ByteDance, Ltd. or TikTok (including subsidiaries or successors that are controlled by a foreign adversary); or (2) a social media company that is controlled by a foreign adversary and has been determined by the President to present a significant threat to national security.”

Not only would TikTok be banned, but any other foreign controlled application that is deemed a “threat” will be banned and/or prohibited.

For many of its users, TikTok represents more than just a platform; it’s also a digital playground where creativity can be expressed and anyone can have fun. Users have made connections, discovered new passions and even launched careers with the app’s approach to content creation and distribution. 

“I felt like my business was going nowhere and I needed a platform to expand my audience, so I found TikTok in 2020 and the rest is history,” said small business owner Jasmine Smith on a TikTok video. “I’ve had several viral videos that have increased the number of sales, allowing me to partner with other companies and just share my advice to [the] community of small business owners on a daily basis.”

Just at Saddleback College alone, there are many students who use the app. 

“It’s really entertaining,” said Susana Tores, a sophomore majoring in elementary education. “But I definitely think that if TikTok is banned, there is Instagram reels.” 

Globally, there are over 1 billion monthly viewers. That means if the bill gets fully passed, 1 billion people will lose connections with friends, followers or in some cases, their businesses.

“I just feel kind of weird that the government really wants to ban TikTok,” said freshman Astrid Shao, studying data science.“It’s like a freedom of everybody to use social media, right?”

Many of the small business owners using TikTok may “disappear,” leading to a less versatile market.

At the heart of the debate lies the question of data privacy and national security. 

Allegations of data mining, surveillance and censorship have fueled calls for stricter regulation or outright bans on the platform. 

TikTok, owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, is now under scrutiny from policymakers in several countries over its handling of user data and its ties to the Chinese government. Policymakers are members of the government responsible for making new rules and laws. 

Canada has ordered a national security review of TikTok for its own country, with only 28 percent opposing the ban.

“TikTok has repeatedly chosen the path for more control, more surveillance and more manipulation,” said Cathy Rodgers, the Republican chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a Time magazine. “Your platform should be banned.”

However, TikTok is not the only social media company to have had privacy concerns. 

“When you dig into the national security allegations against TikTok, it is telling that most of the charges could just as easily be levied against the U.S. tech giants,” said Julia Angwin, the founder of the tech news site “The Markup,” in a New York Times article. 

In 2022, Twitter faced a cybersecurity breach that exposed 5.4 million email addresses and phone numbers from Twitter profiles.

In 2013, Facebook had a similar bug that exposed 6 million emails and phone numbers from its users to anyone who may have any kind of connection to the person or had any of their contact information. 

“The thing I don’t like is that without TikTok, you can make Facebook bigger, and I consider Facebook to be an enemy of the people, along with a lot of the media,” said Trump on CNBC. 

Many cyber security issues that TikTok faces are similar to ones the internet in general has faced since its creation. 

The only clear difference is that TikTok is owned by a foreign company. ByteDance, a fully Chinese company, owns a few other Chinese apps such as Jinri Toutiao, Xigua and Douyin. 

“The app collects sensitive information from its users, and it is often taken without the user’s explicit knowledge such as email addresses, phone numbers, content you upload, and information about your keystroke patterns, battery levels, audio settings, mobile carrier, wireless connections, device brand and model, operating system, browsing history, ways of consuming data, time spent watching posts, searches, apps, filenames and filetypes, and location,” The University of Ottawa wrote in their online article. 

Creators on TikTok have access to a “video analytics” feature that allows them to see how many people have viewed their video, for how long, what age group they’re in, new followers gained and even the gender of the viewers. Instagram has a similar feature called “post insights,” but this feature doesn’t include viewers’ ages or genders. 

While these features may be helpful for business’, some people may find that they are concerned with the amount of information being tossed around online.

Freshman Sonia Amezotcha, a nursing student coming from out of the country, had overlapping thoughts about users filming and showing private things on TikTok.

“It’s good when it’s a good thing,” Amezotcha said. “But sometimes you kind of keep some things private.” 

The bill to ban TikTok has been passed by the House, but has not yet been passed by the Senate or the President. The bill will go into effect only if the House and the Senate pass it.