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TikTok: To Ban or Not to Ban? That is the Question.

By: Katarina Maldarelli

The question of whether to ban TikTok in the US has become a major topic of debate for US citizens. The US government believes that TikTok, a Chinese company, could pose a national security threat. This is because China can force ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, to collect and turn over data on US TikTok users. TikTok is one of many digital technologies, like Alexa, Siri, and the Ring doorbell, that are suspected of mining users’ personal data. The US government has already enacted a ban against the use of TikTok on military and government devices, but now they are considering a complete ban of TikTok in the US. Because we live in a representative democracy, the decision about whether to implement a total ban will be greatly influenced by the people who use TikTok.

A total TikTok ban will affect different users differently. One type of user for whom a total ban would be devastating is the addicted user. It is well known that TikTok can be highly addictive. This is because the short videos (from mere seconds to occasionally up to 10 minutes) are so hypnotizingly entertaining that they produce a dopamine rush in viewers. This causes users to want to replicate that feeling, thereby addicting them to endless scrolling. Obviously, this type of user would be greatly affected by a total ban and would protest vehemently against it. One such addicted user conveyed her dread at the thought of losing TikTok by stating, “Ima cry, I love TikTok!” While this is understandable, some people would argue Tiktok should be banned because of how addictive it really is. One medical specialist who has warned about the ill effects of apps like TikTok is Nancy DeAngelis, a certified registered nurse practitioner, specializing in psychiatry. DeAngelis said, “The overuse of social media can actually rewire a young child or teen's brain to constantly seek out immediate gratification, leading to obsessive, compulsive, and addictive behaviors. . . . This is what can make mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and body dysmorphia worse.”

Another category of TikTok users who would be affected by a total ban is people who use the app but are not addicted to it. Still, they enjoy it so much that they would be more than a little disappointed were it to be banned. Their argument against banning the app is that TikTok can be used for much more than simple entertainment, including education, general information, and mental health support, to name just a few. One person in this category who we interviewed said, “In my opinion, Tiktok has been an extremely helpful source of information about a seemingly endless range of topics. Children and adults alike have been educated, informed, and comforted by popular content creators and influencers, whether that be in fields such as fashion, culinary, sports, news, mental health, and many more.” Another such person pointed out, however, “Although the social media app can be helpful, it furthers the problematic beauty standards and keeps users constantly online.”

A final category of TikTok users are content creators and small business owners, who depend on the revenue earned from views and advertising. For these users, the purpose of TikTok is not simply entertainment; it is vital for them to earn a living. A total ban on TikTok for these users would mean content creators would lose their source of income, and small businesses could lose a large amount of sales or even result in complete business failure. While some people recognize the importance of social media platforms to content creators and small business owners, they argue that they could simply use US-owned apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube, which do not carry the possibility of a national security threat.

The answer to the question of whether the US should implement a total ban on TikTok depends on many factors, not the least of which is how real the potential national security threat is. The other major factor is the effect that such a ban will have on TikTok users. If the threat is real, is it possible to put security measures on devices to prevent the mining of users' data, as an alternative to a total ban? If that is not a viable solution, could the US create a TikTok-like replacement app? Both these potential solutions would satisfy users’ needs and eliminate the possible national security threat. These are the kinds of questions we have to ask in order to make the decision about whether to ban or not to ban, or perhaps something in between.

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