Person holding a smart phone with the TikTok app loading.

Yes, TikTok is Bad. But It Shouldn’t Be Banned

Author’s Note: I had intended to submit this as a column to my local newspaper, the Lexington Herald-Leader. But I forgot about it and then the TikTok ban happened. Still, there are some valid points I’d like to make accessible, with some helpful hyperlinks, to boot! (So if you’re wondering why the “voice” differs from so many other posts here, it’s because I was trying to fit the 650-word max while also catering it to a newspaper-reading audience.)

Banning TikTok is bad for lots of reason. Primarily, the platform gives a voice to the voiceless, especially those otherwise silenced by the US government. Because of TikTok, millions witnessed firsthand accounts of Israeli violence committed against Palestinians. Banning TikTok guarantees more government control over Americans’ attention spans, which both parties should unequivocally oppose.

As a frequent user of the app, I have criticisms. First of all, they don’t fairly pay creators signed up for their affiliate program. Secondly, recent updates turned a large percentage of the app into a virtual Home Shopping Network with thousands of broadcasters hawking drop-shipped junk. And worst of all, TikTok’s automated accountability system unfairly persecutes LGBTQIA+ voices. I’ve had a video immediately banned, with a strike against me, for simply discussing problems with transphobic legislation, all because I recited bigoted language from the bill itself.

Those are all legitimate problems; they’re also part of American-owned social media. Musk’s far-right drift scared advertisers, leading Twitter to transition their business to an untenable subscription model. Facebook and Instagram knowingly harm teen girls. And YouTube consistently de-prioritizes and demonetizes LGBT content, further marginalizing that community.

The response may be that we can’t trust TikTok’s invasion of privacy and I agree; we shouldn’t trust other companies, either. Being American-owned doesn’t give any corporation a free pass. And no, it’s not because TikTok allegedly colludes with foreign governments, because so do those other companies. Facebook gave millions of people’s data to malicious actors like Cambridge Analytica who used it to interfere with elections in Australia, Kenya, Malta, India, and Mexico. We have proof Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit helped spread misinformation before the 2016 US election. We know Musk continues to knowingly remove posts critical of the Turkish and Indian governments. We’ve proven Russia abused Twitter and Facebook’s algorithms to interfere with US elections.

Why isn’t Facebook being banned? Why aren’t we discussing forcing Musk to sell Twitter to an American company instead of allowing it to remain with a hateful megalomaniac? Oh, that’s right: because the only unifying position in America is anti-Asian racism and xenophobia. It’s why President Trump used terms like “Kung Flu” or “China virus” with shockingly little pushback. It’s why so many “liberal” publications pushed unfounded Wuhan lab-leak conspiracies during COVID. Heck, it’s why the Herald-Leader’s coverage of health department ratings almost always features a photograph of an Asian restaurant despite the majority of negative scores coming from gas stations and fast food.

Face it: TikTok is a profit-driven social media platform and embodies all the positives and negatives associated with that. Yes, Beijing-based Bytedance owns 20% of TikTok. I agree the Chinese government has undeserved influence over its citizens and visitors. The recent Hugo Awards removed authors who’d made comments critical of China. I believe we shouldn’t idly allow international events to be hosted by any country where we can’t guarantee freedom from such government control.

I am not, in any way, defending China’s government nor any of its past and present atrocious acts. But to pretend that the home of 1.4 billion people, whose civilization pre-dates any other existing nation, is completely encompassed by the whims of a few terrified bureaucrats is akin to claiming that all Americans are simply reflections of Trump. It’s a dangerous generalization which excuses the harm done to innocent civilians and dehumanizes entire swaths of our population.

Does TikTok deserve to be scrutinized, criticized, and regulated more than it is now? Absolutely, as do all social media platforms. Should it be banned? Of course not, and the push to highlight its problems and downplay the crimes of American counterparts is to give our government as much influence over the American population as China has over its people. This is actually what Congress wants, regardless of political affiliation, and it’s what we can’t ever allow them to have.

Image courtesy of cottonbro studio


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