Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | TikTok sucks. The government should buy it

CW / Riley Thompson
A student scrolls through TikTok.

I don’t like TikTok. I don’t think you should use TikTok. But you should be able to.

As someone who has never even downloaded TikTok, my experience with the site is essentially limited to my friend Katie sending me the worst “comedic” videos I’ve ever seen (don’t worry, she doesn’t read my columns).

My secondhand experience, however, is not positive. Research has shown that TikTok’s “For You” page can serve up negative content suggesting self-harm and that too much short-form video content can damage users’ attention spans.

Plus, although anecdote famously isn’t the singular form of data, last year contributing columnist Elle Standish wrote a piece for The Crimson White about how she thought deleting TikTok “helped me grow richer in meaningful friendships, independent thinking, and even my spirituality.”

But if TikTok is banned, it won’t be because of its negative effects on its users. After all, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts aren’t any better.

Yet, on March 13, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. The bill would force ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, to sell its majority share or TikTok would be banned in the United States.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., defended it by stating that “America’s foremost adversary has no business controlling a dominant media platform in the United States.”

To be frank, banning TikTok just because it’s owned by a Chinese company is asinine.

The United States and China have the two largest economies in the world. Up until last year, China was America’s largest source of imports (a status now held by Mexico), and it is the third-largest recipient of American exports.

Put aside for a second that American-owned websites like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Netflix are already used across the world and that this could set off a wave of back-and-forth website bans.

Trying to separate the American and Chinese economies is a gargantuan task, and one far more likely to encourage war between the two countries than to discourage it. This of course doesn’t mean that some policies directed at fixing key weaknesses in our supply chains aren’t merited.

For example, over 60% of semiconductors are manufactured in Taiwan, a potential target of future Chinese invasion. If Taiwan were invaded, the United States and the world would struggle to purchase anywhere near an acceptable number of incredibly vital components. So the CHIPS Act, bipartisan legislation passed in 2022, was written and signed into law in order to encourage the creation and growth of a domestic semiconductor industry.

But Congress’ planned TikTok ban is just one more example of America’s resurgent Sinophobia going too far.

When the CEO of TikTok, Singaporean businessman Shou Zi Chew, was testifying to congress, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., brazenly asked Chew if he had applied for Chinese citizenship, was a member of the Chinese Communist Party, and so forth. Chew’s obvious answer: “Senator, I’m Singaporean. No.”

Residents of Green Charter Township, Michigan, are now trying to prevent the Chinese battery company Gotion from building a $2.4 billion dollar factory that would bring thousands of jobs to the tiny town.

This economic xenophobia is also extending far beyond China, and even beyond our nominal enemies.

Japanese steel company Nippon Steel is currently attempting to purchase U.S. Steel, the (obviously) American steel company that has been struggling in recent decades. Even though Japan has been one of our closest allies for decades now, both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have spoken against the planned acquisition.

The remarkably bipartisan TikTok bill is the latest overreaction caused by both parties’ growing fear of international trade and economic cooperation.

It goes beyond just forcing ByteDance to either sell TikTok or have its app banned in the United States. The bill also threatens any other site controlled by a foreign adversary and “determined by the President to present a significant threat to the national security of the United States.” How wonderfully vague. I’m sure that could never be abused.

Well, if forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok or have their flagship app banned in the United States is the wrong course of action, what could be done? The government could just buy and operate TikTok.

After all, it has done similar things before.

In the midst of the 2008-09 financial crisis, the federal government invested billions in Ally Financial Inc., the parent company of online banking service Ally Bank. For the next four years, from 2010 through 2013, the federal government owned a majority stake.

In 2014, it finally liquidated its remaining shares. According to the Congressional Research Service, the government gained $2.4 billion from its ownership and subsequent divestment from Ally.

So if — as the Heritage Foundation’s director of technology policy claimed in 2020 — TikTok gives China “100 million sensors around the United States,” then the government should just purchase the app, make sure that there aren’t any backdoors, kick the tires on TikTok’s proprietary algorithm, and then sell it off. Or the federal government could keep operating it.

After all, giving the seemingly all-powerful Meta a public competitor could help curb some of the tech giant’s worst impulses.

There’s no reason for Congress to give the president the power to arbitrarily take any website supposedly controlled by the wrong people and either force a fire sale or ban it.

Instead, if it’s really a matter of national security, let’s just have the government purchase TikTok directly and choose what to do from there.

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