Selling views in exchange of guns: The potential end for TikTok in the United States

As the United States Senate just passed the highly anticipated foreign aid bill consisting of more than 62 billion dollars in military equipment towards Ukraine, the bipartisan legislation unveiled some hidden concessions that sparked a highly controversial debate in American civil society: the inclusion in the bill of a potential ban of TikTok.

The last decade has seen a wild rise for the Chinese based social media platform, especially in its largest market, the US. What started as an app for sharing dancing videos evolved into a multi-billion dollar company that surpassed 1,2 billion users in 2023. Its scope is well known, with thousands and thousands of content creators publishing their videos from genres such as entertainment to news materials and beauty content. And yet despite its popularity, controversy regarding its data protection and some alleged connections between the company and the Chinese Communist Party has determined the legislative branch of the US to debate whether or not it represents a “threat to national security”.

There is a lot of critique regarding this decision, mostly from the content creators, many of them receiving a steady income from their work on the platform. Moreover, China has accused the United States of pure hypocrisy, denying any involvement in the affairs of the corporation and implying that this move resembles a desperate decision to harm in any manner possible Chinese companies and interests. Additionally, there is also the issue of the viewers, which have repeatedly voiced their discontent with the decision, as it could be seen as a direct attack towards their freedom of expression and manifestation, values which used to be synonymous with American culture.   

In this wave of backlash, the American legislators have inquired more than once the CEO of TikTok, requesting responses to the serious accusations regarding the sharing of data with its mother Chinese company. However the inquiry resembled more of a witch hunt rather than a serious deposition, with conservative senators repeating absurd questions regarding the CEO’s personal life and origin rather than entering into a productive investigation over legal and technical arguments.

For what is worth, the owner company ByteDance has received less than a year from the Senate to sell all its actives to an American consortium of owners, otherwise it will be permanently shut down in the US market. And while this could mean the end of TikTok for all the 100 million users in the United States, this piece of legislation speaks more about the contingent issues and tensions between American and Chinese economic and political interests, as the two countries are competing for the status of the sole superpower of the 21st century. It remains to be seen how the company will be dealing with these conditions, however regardless of that, the way in which Congress decided to use this bill as a political bargaining tool in exchange for the passing of highly needed military aid to Ukraine will stain the image of the American political system for quite some time.

The bill will now be passed to the White House for promulgation, which is considered highly likely, as President Biden declared that it will pass this decision if consensus in the Congress is reached. The only uncertainties remaining are linked to the content creators. Are they going to migrate towards other, less controversial social platforms? Or is ByteDance willing to sell TikTok to an American company in order to avoid the loss of viewers and prestige? These issues remain under unpredictability. Yet this moment could be considered detrimental in America’s democratic strength and a potential aggravation in its commercial relations with the People’s Republic of China.

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