Could a TikTok ban hurt Democrats?
Democrats are increasingly hostile to TikTok over its ties to China, appearing to align themselves with more hawkish Republicans who have long called for restrictions on the platform.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, which is based in Beijing, and senior US officials have warned that the technology could be used to pass US users’ private data to the Chinese government and even influence Americans to benefit China.
Fueling those concerns is the country’s national security law, which requires Chinese companies and those operating in China to share data with its government upon request.
Biden’s top intelligence adviser, Avril Haines, described the country as “the United States’ most serious and important intelligence rival.”
But any eventual ban on TikTok could have political implications for the White House and Democrats in general.
TikTok gets an ultimatum
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is a committee of senior Cabinet and intelligence officials that reviews foreign transactions in U.S. companies for national security reasons. CFIUS has been trying to negotiate a deal with the platform for two years and has now given Chinese TikTok owners an ultimatum: either sell their stake in the company or risk a nationwide ban in the United States, according to a Wall Street report. Newspaper published Wednesday.
TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter denied that a sale would significantly address security concerns.
“If protecting national security is the goal, divestment does not solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on flows or access to data,” Oberwetter told the Journal.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday the administration was letting CFIUS lead the charge on TikTok.
“There is a process here,” she told reporters. “We try to stay away from this process.”
Caitlin Chin, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told HuffPost that it would be much harder to find a buyer for TikTok this time around than it was when then-President Donald Trump , tried to force the sale of the company in 2020 citing concerns about Americans’ data security.
Oracle and Walmart reportedly reached a deal to buy 20% of TikTok at the time, but that deal fell apart after courts ruled Trump’s threats to ban TikTok were beyond his authority.
TikTok’s market share and user base have grown significantly over the ensuing years, meaning any company looking to buy the social media giant would have to be even bigger than TikTok, but also be prepared. to withstand global scrutiny of the technology, Chin explained. .
“There aren’t many companies that both have the resources to buy TikTok and the economic or strategic motivation to do so,” Chin added. “And I think any sale will also potentially raise antitrust issues, just because the US social media market is so concentrated.”
More bipartisan consensus in Congress
The momentum against TikTok has been building in Congress.
The senses. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John Thune (RS.D.) last week introduced the Restrict Act, intended to address the threat of technology created by foreign U.S. adversaries. Although the legislation does not specifically target TikTok, it could be used to ban the platform in the United States. The bill was co-sponsored by 10 senators from both parties and was also approved by the White House.
“This legislation would provide the U.S. government with new mechanisms to mitigate national security risks posed by high-risk technology companies operating in the United States,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement last week.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has also advanced a bill introduced by its chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), that would give President Joe Biden more power to take action against TikTok.
What Americans think of a possible TikTok ban
A new national poll from Quinnipiac University released Wednesday found nearly 50% of Americans support a ban on foreign technology, including TikTok.
Importantly, support for a possible ban appears to be split across parties.
While 64% of Republicans and 50% of independents support a ban, only 39% of Democrats agree with the action.
According to the poll, only a third (33%) of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 would support a ban.
During the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing earlier this month, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the vice chairman, asked senior intelligence officials whether the app’s popularity with young people should stop efforts to curb it.
“Not from my perspective,” replied FBI Director Christopher Wray, who also criticized TikTok.
When asked if Democrats should be worried about alienating young voters if they support action against TikTok, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), co-sponsor of Warner’s Senate bill and one of the platform’s most vocal critics within the Democratic Party, said other platforms would fill that gap.
“If we ever get to that point, there will be a lot of alternatives,” Bennet told HuffPost on Wednesday.
But in reality, Chin said, users don’t have many options, given that social media is one of the most consolidated markets in the United States.
While Instagram’s Reels feature appears to be a close competitor to TikTok, its parent company Meta collects just as much personal information from users, and it would be one of the most direct beneficiaries of an action against the platform. Chinese-owned form.
Chin added that TikTok creators who have amassed a following on the app would struggle to migrate their communities elsewhere.
How banning or restricting TikTok could hurt Democrats
Some Democrats have expressed concern that a move targeting TikTok could hurt the party’s standing with younger voters.
While Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo endorsed the restriction law, she previously warned that action specifically against TikTok could hurt the Democratic Party.
“The politician in me thinks you’re literally going to lose every voter under 35, forever,” she told Bloomberg. “Even though I hate TikTok — and I do, because I see addiction in the bad shit it serves kids — you know, it’s America.”
The White House and Democrats more broadly have already appeared to embrace TikTok.
Biden once invited eight TikTok influencers to the White House and had a one-hour private meeting with them ahead of the midterm elections.
The influencers’ trip to Washington, DC, was organized by the Democratic National Committee with the goal of training voters for the party in November. Besides the visit to the White House, the creators met with former President Barack Obama and received a private tour of the US Capitol, among others.
“We know people listen to trusted messengers, and as more young people turn to Instagram, TikTok and other platforms for news and information, we need to engage directly with the voices they trust. “, said Rob Flaherty, director of the White House. digital strategy, told the Washington Post at the time.
But currently, the White House seems to think the cons outweigh the pros.
Still, some lawmakers continue to use TikTok.
The senses. Cory Booker (DN.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) post frequently on the platform. Booker has 330,000 subscribers, while Sanders’s number stands at 1.4 million subscribers.
During an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” last month, Booker acknowledged the security concerns around TikTok, but didn’t directly say whether the United States should ban it.
Sanders and Booker did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment on a possible ban.
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) and his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz also actively used TikTok during the 2022 campaign.
The DNC joined TikTok in March 2022 to engage more young voters ahead of the midterm elections, and also to learn lessons on how to effectively use the platform in future campaigns, according to Axios.
Nell Thomas, a former chief technology officer for the DNC, told Peter Kafka’s “Recode Media” podcast in August 2022 that Democrats were taking several precautions to manage the security risks of using the technology, but that TikTok was crucial in connecting with voters.
“We, at this point, don’t think we can ignore the audience that’s on TikTok,” Thomas said. “And we think it’s really, really important for Democratic values and victories and successes to know where people are.”
Chin expects a TikTok ban to have an effect on political campaigns in 2024 given how critical social media has become for voter outreach and how popular the app is with young Americans. .
“If TikTok is banned, I don’t know how political campaigns will change their communications strategies in the future to ensure they reach everyone,” Chin told HuffPost.
Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.