Could Banning TikTok Hurt Democrats?

Democrats are becoming increasingly hostile to it tick tock about its ties to China and appears to be aligning itself with more hawkish Republicans who have long called for restrictions on the platform.

TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, and senior US officials have warned that the technology could be used to leak US users’ private data to the Chinese government and even influence Americans to benefit China.

These concerns are fueled by the country’s national security law, which requires Chinese companies and companies operating in China to release data to the government upon request.

Biden’s top intelligence adviser Avril Haines has described the country as America’s “most serious and consequential intelligence rival”.

But a potential TikTok ban could have political implications for the White House and Democrats at large.

TikTok gets an ultimatum

The US Committee on Foreign Investments is a committee of senior Cabinet and Secret Service officials who review foreign transactions at American companies for national security concerns. CFIUS has been trying to negotiate a deal with the platform for two years and has now given TikTok’s Chinese owners an ultimatum: either sell their stake in the company or risk a nationwide ban in the US. according to a Wall Street Journal report published on Wednesday.

TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter denied that a sale would meaningfully address security concerns.

“If protecting national security is the goal, divestment does not solve the problem: a change in ownership would not introduce new restrictions on data flow or access,” Oberwetter told the Journal.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday the government is letting CFIUS lead the charge against TikTok.

“There’s a process here,” she told reporters. “We’re trying to stay away from that process.”

Caitlin Chin, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told HuffPost that finding a buyer for TikTok this time would be much more difficult than it was when then-President Donald Trump attempted a sale of the company in the Year 2020 to enforce concerns about the security of Americans’ data.

Oracle and Walmart reportedly reached an agreement at the time to buy 20% of TikTok, but that agreement fell through after courts ruled that Trump’s threats to ban TikTok exceeded his powers.

TikTok’s market share and user base have grown significantly in the years since, meaning any company wanting to buy the social media giant would need to be even bigger than TikTok, but also be willing to take the tech’s global scrutiny endure, Chin explained.

“There aren’t many companies that have both the resources to buy TikTok and the commercial or strategic motivation to do so,” Chin added. “And I think any sale will also raise potential antitrust concerns just because the US social media market is so concentrated.”

More bipartisan consensus in Congress

A momentum has been building in Congress against TikTok.

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John Thune (RS.D.) introduced the Restrict Act last week, designed to address the threat of technology developed by foreign U.S. adversaries. While the legislation doesn’t specifically target TikTok, it could be used to ban the platform in the US. The bill was co-sponsored by 10 senators from both parties and was also approved by the White House.

“This legislation would provide the U.S. government with new mechanisms to mitigate the national security risks posed by high-risk technology companies operating in the United States,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement last week.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has also introduced a bill introduced by its chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), that would give President Joe Biden more powers to crack down on TikTok.

How Americans feel about a possible TikTok ban

A new Quinnipiac University National Survey The study, released Wednesday, found nearly 50% of Americans support a ban on foreign technology, including TikTok.

Crucially, however, support for a possible ban appears to be split along party lines.

While 64% of Republicans and 50% of Independents support a ban, only 39% of Democrats support the action.

Just a third (33%) of Americans ages 18 to 34 would support a ban, the poll found.

During the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing earlier this month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the vice chairman, asked senior intelligence officials whether the app’s popularity among younger people should halt efforts to curb it.

“Not from my point of view” answered FBI Director Christopher Wray, who is also critical of TikTok.

Asked whether Democrats should be concerned about alienating young voters if they support action against TikTok, said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a co-supporter of Warner’s Senate bill and one of the platform’s most vocal critics in of the Democratic Party said other platforms would fill that gap.

“If we ever get to that point, there will be many alternatives,” Bennet told HuffPost on Wednesday.

But in reality, Chin said, since social media is one of the most consolidated markets in the US, users don’t have that many choices

While Instagram’s Reels feature appears to be a close competitor to TikTok, parent company Meta collects just as much personal information from users and would be one of the most immediate beneficiaries of action taken against the Chinese platform.

Chin added that TikTok creators who have amassed a following on the app would have a hard time migrating their communities elsewhere.

How Banning Or Restricting TikTok Could Hurt Democrats

Some Democrats have expressed concerns that action against TikTok could hurt the party’s standing with younger voters.

While Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo has done so endorsed the Restrict Actshe previously warned that taking action specifically against TikTok could hurt the Democratic Party.

“The politician in me thinks you’re going to lose literally every voter under the age of 35 forever,” she said said Bloomberg. “As much as I hate TikTok — and I do it because I see the addiction in the bad shit it serves kids — you know, this is America.”

The White House and broader Democrats previously appeared to be welcoming to TikTok.

Biden once invited eight TikTok influencers to the White House and had a one-hour private meeting with them ahead of the midterm elections.

The influencers’ trip to Washington, DC, was organized by the Democratic National Committee to rally voters for the party in November. In addition to the visit to the White House, the organizers met former President Barack Obama and received a private tour of the US Capitol.

“We know people listen to trusted messengers, and as more young people turn to Instagram, TikTok and other platforms for news and information, we need to connect directly with the voices they trust,” says Rob Flaherty, Director of the White House Digital Strategy, said the Washington Post at the time.

But for now, the White House seems to think the cons outweigh the pros.

Still, there are lawmakers who continue to use TikTok.

Sens. Cory Booker (DN.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) both post frequently on the platform. Booker has a following of 330,000 people, while Sanders has 1.4 million followers.

during one Interviewed by CBS’ Face the Nation last monthBooker recognized security issues surrounding TikTok, but didn’t directly say whether the US should ban it.

Sanders and Booker did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment about a possible ban.

Senator John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz also actively used TikTok during the 2022 election campaign.

The DNC joined TikTok in March 2022 to attract more young voters ahead of the midterm elections and also learn lessons on how to use the platform effectively in future campaigns. to Axios.

Nell Thomas, a former chief technology officer at the DNC, said Peter Kafka’s “Recode Media” podcast in August 2022 that Democrats were taking several precautions to manage the security risks of using the technology, but that TikTok was critical to connecting with voters.

“At this point, we don’t feel like we can ignore the audience on TikTok,” Thomas said. “And we think it’s really, really important that democratic values, victories and successes are told where the people are.”

Chin reckons a TikTok ban would impact political campaigning in 2024, given how important social media has become for canvassing voters and the popularity of the app among young Americans.

“If TikTok is banned, it’s just unclear to me how political campaigns will change their communication strategies going forward to ensure they reach everyone,” Chin told HuffPost.

Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.


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