TikTok: Your Free Speech is on the Clock

Author: Stephanie Odom (Democrat)

Gen-Z, k-pop fans, and TikTok users all came together for political sabotage. Should we be surprised? No. Does it fit into the “anything can happen” narrative that 2020 has created? Without a doubt. 

TikTok, a social media platform that is the successor of Musical.ly and started by Chinese company ByteDance, is most famously known for lipsyncing videos, comedy skits, dance routines, and lifestyle content. Launching in September of 2016, it was only a matter of time for this social media platform to create a viral storm of content that has been beloved by billions. 

However, as the app diversified over time with more users and talent niches, TikTok has become no stranger to political content. In fact, many accounts (on all parts of the political spectrum) create both informative and opinionated content for the purpose of educating users on current issues. While scrolling through the over 2.6 billion TikToks alone, championing the #politics tag, the content certainly varies.

In an interview done by the New York Times with Ioana Literat, an assistant professor of communication and media at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Neta Kligler-Vilenchik, an assistant professor of communication at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a breakdown of two key questions pertaining to free speech and its impact on political involvement and understanding can be answered.

1. Are all voices (as in all different political beliefs) being heard?

Yes. 

Dr. Literat: “In terms of youth political expression, while there’s a dynamic and influential liberal activist community on TikTok, there’s actually plenty of conservative political expression, and pro-Trump voices definitely find an audience on the platform.

We found this to be true in our early research on Musical.ly, in the aftermath of the 2016 election, and it’s still true today on TikTok, as we’re gearing up for the 2020 election … It’s hard to refer to what we see on the platform as consensus. Rather, we find that TikTok enables collective political expression for youth — that is, it allows them to deliberately connect to a like-minded audience by using shared symbolic resources”

2. Has TikTok caused conversation and change between party lines?

It has great potential to do so.

Dr. Kligler-Vilenchik: If we return to the idea of collective political expression as the ability to speak to a like-minded audience through shared symbolic resources, we see that this enables at least the potential for a conversation across political views.

So, some users may choose to tag their video with #bluelivesmatter and speak to a certain audience. But they can also choose to tag their video with #blacklivesmatter, and that way reach a different audience, with a different view. Often this is done ironically, as a parody of others’ views (e.g., a video tagged #whitelivesmatter that goes on to explain the idea of white privilege), but it may also be a way to spark conversation between sides.

So if TikTok is both a platform for all political beliefs and has the potential to create a better understanding of such beliefs, why does President Donald Trump want to ban it?

Well he was not the first politician to raise concerns.

Two senior members of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), asked U.S. intelligence officials to determine whether the Chinese-owned social-networking app TikTok poses “national security risks.”

Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to investigate the 2017 purchase by ByteDance of Musical.ly because Rubio said the “Chinese government’s nefarious efforts to censor information inside free societies around the world cannot be accepted and pose serious long-term challenges to the U.S. and our allies.”

Although these politicians have adequate claims to suspect that TikTok could be a potential security threat, all of them have already been proven wrong. 

As proven by The Washington Post on November 2019, “TikTok says its U.S. operation doesn’t censor political content or take instructions from its parent company, the Chinese tech giant ByteDance. Company leaders extol the app as a platform free of the contentious content that has come to characterize its online competitors, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. ByteDance said no moderators for TikTok’s U.S. platform are based in China and do not follow Chinese law.”

In addition to U.S. TikTok databases not being based in China, another tech giant wants to take the place of ByteDance to reduce the hysteria of ByteDance’s ownership of the app.

When looking at Marketwatch on August 1st 2020 it is proven that, “Microsoft is in advanced talks to buy the U.S. operations of TikTok, the popular Chinese-owned video app that has been a source of national security and censorship concerns.”

Now with all potentially valid reasons and concerns to ban TikTok, WHY DOES PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP WANT TO PROCEED WITH HIS EXECUTIVE ORDER TO BAN THE APP?

Well remember the bric-a-brac collection of political advocates that I mentioned earlier? In President Donald Trump’s eyes they are a security threat, a threat to resecuring the position of power that he so precariously came into in 2016 and continues to cling onto.  

As shown by Reuters in June 2020, “Social media users on platforms including the popular video-sharing app have said they completed the free online registration for the Tulsa, Oklahoma rally with no intention of going. Prior to the event, Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale said there had been more than one million requests to attend. However, the 19,000-seat BOK Center arena had many empty seats on Saturday evening and Trump and Vice President Mike Pence canceled speeches to an expected “overflow” area outside. The Tulsa Fire Department tallied the crowd at about 6,200 people.”

“Leftists always fool themselves into thinking they’re being clever. Registering for a rally only means you’ve RSVPed with a cell phone number,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. “But we thank them for their contact information.”

Although the TikTok users who participated in this 21st century form of rebellion were bashed by the RNC, Trump administration, and right-winged media sources such as FOX, their creativity to both safely and strongly protest President Donald Trump only proved a never-ending devotion to changing the status quo.

With the timeline, facts, and history above I am positive that one could draw their own conclusions as to why President Donald Trump is adamant about going through with his executive order. His political agenda thrives off of division, adhominems, and a false sense of what it means to be a patriot. 

It is almost ironic at this point that the President who champions the idea that the people who are too afraid to state their political beliefs should have the first amendment right to free speech is trying to get rid of the very platform that has promoted political debate and expression for all Americans.

For the young Americans, global scholars, and wise elders who have fought for the political and cultural progression of this very nation, I give the utmost apology on behalf of the man that is banning the platform that educates and unites us. 

Take this as a sign to still love one another, have those hard conversations, and make America your nation again.

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