On Wednesday, March 29, 2023, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) pushed for a vote on his bill that would, among other things, ban popular Chinese social media platform TikTok. However, his bid to force a vote on the proposed legislation, the Restrict Act, one that some observers have called the Patriot Act for the Internet, was blocked by fellow Republican, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.
TikTok has been under intense scrutiny for its data collection and sharing practices, with concerns raised about the platform’s relationship with the Chinese government and its potential for mass surveillance of Americans.
While there is evidence that TikTok gathers significant data on its users, it would set a concerning precedent if the state were to intervene by banning an app based on privacy concerns — particularly concerns that most people are already acutely conscious of.
Moreover, the purpose of the Restrict Act is not merely to prohibit TikTok, but rather to exert control over individuals. It provides extensive authority to the executive branch, with minimal oversight, and is likely to be exploited in various ways beyond anything we could imagine.
Privacy risks are for individuals to assume
From a pro-liberty perspective, the government should not be involved in deciding which apps, however risky, individuals can use. The risks anyone is willing to consent to must be their own prerogative. Indeed, it is the individual’s responsibility to be aware of the risks involved in using any online service and to take necessary precautions.
In order to maintain a free and open internet, individuals must have the freedom to choose which apps and services they want to use and, as such, should take responsibility for their own data privacy.
If there is sufficient concern over privacy, as there clearly is with TikTok, users should read the privacy policies of the apps they use, be aware of the data they are sharing, and take necessary precautions to protect their information. Furthermore, individuals can take additional steps to protect their privacy and data, such as by using virtual private networks (VPNs) or favoring encrypted messaging apps.
Banning TikTok would be straight out of China’s playbook
While banning foreign social media platforms has been common practice in Xi Jinping’s China, such censorship would be unprecedented in the United States.
Banning TikTok would represent not just a major infringement on free speech but also an assault on economic freedom. Indeed, the app has become a major platform for creators and small businesses to share their content and reach a wider audience. The proposed ban on TikTok would not only harm these individuals but also stifle innovation and competition in the tech industry.
In conclusion, while the concerns over TikTok’s data collection practices are legitimate, it is not the role of the state to ban a social media platform. Banning TikTok, regardless of anyone’s personal opinion on it, would be deeply paternalistic and contrary to the principles of freedom and competition that underpin the United States and set it apart from countries like China.
John Tamny, Director of FreedomWorks, said it well when he said, “Nauseating harassment of TikTok presumes Americans will be saved from Chinese authoritarianism if US politicians act like Chinese authoritarians.”
Americans everywhere should reject this move.
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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.