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TikTok Doom Loop

Starting with the allegations against TikTok: The U.S. government has an agency named CFIUS, tasked with monitoring foreign entities operating in the U.S. After a year of scrutinizing TikTok, it has reached no definitive conclusions, essentially hitting a deadlock. For Congress to label TikTok as a threat, one would expect solid evidence.

To clarify, I do believe there is evidence of harm, but it pertains to social media at large, not specifically TikTok. Jonathan Haidt’s new book “The Anxious Generation” exposes in harrowing detail the effects of social media on youth. Similarly, “Broken Code,” written by Jeff Horwitz, builds on Frances Haugen’s extensive data, and delves into these issues with startling clarity.

The argument in favor of forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok primarily hinges on national security concerns. Advocates argue that TikTok, being owned by Chinese company ByteDance, could potentially share user data with the Chinese government, posing risks to the privacy and security of millions of users. Additionally, there’s worry about the platform being used for misinformation or to influence operations. Selling TikTok to a non-Chinese company is seen as a way to mitigate these risks while allowing the platform to continue operating in the U.S.

These concerns underscore significant questions about social media’s impact. TikTok may indeed be part of the problem, yet this legislation fails to address the root issues.

Arguments against forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok often emphasize the lack of concrete evidence directly linking TikTok to actual harm or misuse of data in a way that justifies such a drastic measure. Critics argue that this move could set a concerning precedent for the government intervening in private business on the basis of national origin rather than demonstrated misconduct. Furthermore, there are concerns about the effectiveness of a sale in actually protecting user data and privacy, suggesting that robust data protection laws applicable to all companies might be a more equitable and effective solution.

This situation begs the question of how this matter gained such urgency that Congress could vote on it, in a largely bipartisan manner, without solid evidence or hearings, and declare guilt.

If the bill passes the Senate, which is not a given, I anticipate TikTok will be sold to a U.S. buyer. However, this new owner would not be obligated to make any changes to the platform, especially concerning the protection of children or holding other social networks accountable.

It seems both parties, under pressure from voters to “do something about Big Tech,” chose a headline-grabbing issue to campaign on this election year, promising more actions to come.

While I don’t dispute the potential dangers of a massively successful, Chinese-owned social network, the lack of concrete evidence undermines the rationale for this legislative action.

Youth across all social platforms are clamoring for change, advocating the Youth Design Principles, guidelines aimed at creating digital services and products that are safe, empowering, and respectful for young users. These principles were developed by the 5Rights Foundation. KOSA, the Kids Online Safety Act, is proposed U.S. legislation aiming to protect young internet users. It mandates tech companies enhance online safety measures, increase transparency about their platforms’ risks, and empower parents and children with greater control over personal data and digital experiences.

However, this legislative rush against TikTok seems to sideline broader issues, highlighting Congress’s inability to multitask, like the old adage that one cannot “walk and chew gum at the same time.” Congress it seems would prefer to shut down the Chinese ownership of TikTok than address the issues that both young people and parents are calling for. In an election year, this may prove to be a misguided decision.

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