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America’s Still Moving To Ban TikTok 

Last week, a key house committee introduced and approved a bill that is targeting the social media platform TikTok. The full House is set to vote this week potentially, and the White House has stated that President Joe Biden is also prepared to sign it, according to reports from CNN.

The bill itself, if fully approved, would give TikTok about five months to separate from its Chinese parent company ByteDance. If they refuse, app stores in the US will be prohibited from hosting the app on their platforms. 

Besides TikTok, the bill will also restrict other apps that are allegedly controlled by foreign adversaries like China, Iran, Russia, or North Korea. The bill would also set up a process for Biden, and future presidents to identify apps that should be banned under the specific legislation. 

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Any app store that violates said legislation could be fined based on the number of users of the banned apps; specifically a fine of $5,000 per user of the banned app. For example, if the bill passes and Apple or Google decide to keep TikTok on its app stores, they could face fines up to $850 billion. 

One of the bill’s lead cosponsors, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, says “the bill does not ban TikTok; it simply offers TikTok the choice to be divested.”

TikTok has responded to this recent bill’s momentum, stating that it’s an attack on the First Amendment rights of its users, according to CNN. It’s even launched a call-to-action campaign within the app itself, urging users to call their states representatives in Washington to oppose the bill. Multiple congressional offices have already stated that they’ve been “flooded” with calls. 

In a statement, TikTok said: 

“The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country.”

Lawmakers have long been alleging that TikTok poses a national security threat because the government in China can use its intelligence laws against ByteDance to force them to hand over the data of US TikTok users. If done, that information can then be potentially used to identify intelligence targets or enable disinformation or propaganda campaigns. 

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The US government has not yet presented any evidence that China has accessed user data from TikTok, and according to reports, cybersecurity experts have stated that it still remains a hypothetical scenario. 

During the Trump administration, there was a major effort to ban TikTok, however, others debated whether or not the president had the power to ban a foreign-owned social media app. With this new congressional legislation, the president would have clear, new authorities to do that. 

With the speed in which House leaders are promising a floor vote, it can be assumed that they’re confident in the bill’s clearance. There is still not a lot of information regarding if the bill will have a chance in the Senate. 

Gallagher stated that the bill will likely fall to the Senate Commerce Committee. Senator Maria Cantwell, who chairs the Commerce Committee, told CNN that she will be talking to her “Senate and House colleagues to try to find a path forward that is constitutional and protects civil liberties.”

Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said that “passing a nationwide privacy law regulating how all companies, not just TikTok, handle Americans’ data would lead to the same result without raising First Amendment concerns.” 

“By that precedent, it would be unconstitutional for the government to ban TikTok even if it were blatantly a direct mouthpiece for the Chinese government,” Jaffer said.

“If you give the government the power to restrict Americans’ access to propaganda, then you’ve given the government the power to restrict Americans’ access to anything the government deems to be propaganda.”

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Indiana State’s Lawsuit Against TikTok Over Child Safety Dismissed By Judge

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit in Indiana state that was filed against TikTok over accusations of making false claims about safety of children on the app and age-appropriate content. 

According to CNN, Judge Jennifer DeGroote of Allen County Superior Court in Fort Wayne, Indiana stated that the court lacks “personal jurisdiction” over the social media platform, and that downloading an app for free is not considered “consumer transaction” under the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act.” 

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The lawsuit was initially filed in December 2022, and was originally two separate lawsuits that were later consolidated. This was the first lawsuit filed by a state against TikTok, however, similar lawsuits are currently active in other states. 

“[The state respects the ruling] but we also disagree with it on various points and are considering appellate options at this time,” the office of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a statement to CNN

“We were the first state to file suit against TikTok, but not the last, and it’s reassuring to see others take up this ongoing fight against a foreign Big Tech threat, in any jurisdiction.”

Rokita also stated that TikTok is a “malicious and menacing threat unleashed on unsuspecting Indiana consumers by a Chinese company that knows full well the harms it inflicts on users.”

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The lawsuit alleged that the social media platform advertises to younger individuals with the sentiment that it’s a safe app, however, the app itself easily grants access for users to see inappropriate content such as nudity, profanity, and drug and alcohol use. 

The lawsuit also stated that TikTok collects sensitive data from its users and uses their personal information. “[TikTok] has deceived those consumers to believe that this information is protected from the Chinese government and Communist Party.”

Indiana also has been involved in a lawsuit against Meta, the parent company of Instagram, for its addictive nature and harm to young users’ mental health. Dozens of other states have filed similar lawsuits against Meta as well. 

Indiana was also one of the first states to ban TikTok on any government-issued devices over “the threat of gaining access to critical US information and infrastructure.”

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Meta, Instagram-Parent Company, Sued By Multiple States Over ‘Addictive’ Features And Negative Mental Health Impacts On Youths

Dozens of states are suing Meta, the parent-company of Instagram, accusing the major tech company of harming young users’ mental health through addictive features, such as infinite news feeds and frequent notifications that demand users’ attention.

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TikTok Creators File Lawsuit Challenging Montana Ban

A group of TikTok creators in Montana have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s new ban of the app, arguing that the law signed by Governor Greg Gianforte violates their First Amendment rights.

The ban signed by Gov. Gianforte on Wednesday is the first state-level ban of the social media platform. The complaint was filed just hours later in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana Wednesday evening.

The lawsuit asserts that TikTok is comparable to other forms of media, which the state does not have the authority to keep Montanans from accessing and contributing to.

“Montana can no more ban its residents from viewing or posting to TikTok than it could ban the Wall Street Journal because of who owns it or the ideas it publishes.”

The group of creators stated that the new ban, set to take effect in January 2024, goes far beyond restrictions already in place in Montana and other states.

Other states have prohibited the use of TikTok on government devices, citing a potential threat to national security because of TikTok’s ties to China via its parent company ByteDance. The Montana ban extends to personal devices, making it illegal for TikTok to operate the app and for the Apple and Google app stores to offer it for download within state lines.

According to the law, TikTok could be fined $10,000 for each violation of the ban, plus another $10,000 for each day the infraction persists. Google and Apple may face the same fines.

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A spokesperson for Gov. Gianforte said in a statement that the Governor’s decision was motivated by wanting to protect “Montanans’ personal and private data being harvested by the Chinese Communist party.”

“While the Chinese Communist Party may try to hide their nefarious spying and collection of individuals’ personal, private, sensitive information under the banner of our First Amendment, the governor has an obligation to protect Montanans and their individual privacy right, as guaranteed by the Montana Constitution, from the Chinese Communist Party’s serious, grave threats.”

TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, has stated that the Chinese government has never asked TikTok for its data on users in the U.S. There has also been no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Emily Flower, a spokeswoman for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, released a statement saying that the office expects a legal challenge but is “fully prepared to defend the law.”

Emilee Cantrell, another spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office, told The New York Times that the state would enforce the ban through “geo-fencing,” which is “already in use across the gaming industry.”

“A basic internet search will show you companies that provide geolocation compliance. If companies do not comply with the ban, the agency will investigate and hold offending entities accountable in accordance with the law.”

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In addition to citing the First Amendment, the lawsuit argues that Montana’s ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving TikTok users of other rights without due process.

It also asserts that the new law violates federal authority to set foreign policy and regulate interstate commerce, undermining the federal government’s powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union described the ban as “unconstitutional.” Ramya Krishnan, a lawyer at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, told The New York Times that to justify a ban and have it hold up to legal scrutiny, the state would have to demonstrate its security concerns are real.

“Many have hypothesized that China might demand that ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, turn over Americans’ data or use TikTok to push disinformation in some way, but neither Montana nor the U.S. government has pointed to any evidence that China is actually doing this. That’s a problem because speculative harms can’t justify a total ban on a communications platform, particularly one that’s used by hundreds of thousands of Montanans daily.”

TikTok told Reuters that the new measure “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people of Montana by unlawfully banning TikTok.”

“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana.”

The five plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit include a former Marine sergeant, a rancher, a swimwear business, and an exercise influencer.

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TikTok Potential Ban In US Fueling Hate Crime Anxiety Among Asian Americans

The rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans has been a widely discussed epidemic since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. With the recent news of Chinese spy balloons appearing in the US and the highly publicized coverage of the potential ban of TikTok due to security concerns is now leading to increased anxiety among Asian Americans who have had their fears amplified with good reason in recent months.

The US Government Is Still Threatening To Ban TikTok

TikTok told the media this week that US federal officers are demanding that the Chinese Owners of the app sell their stake in the social media app, or they risk facing a US ban of the app due to security concerns.

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European Union Bans TikTok From Official Government Devices 

This Tuesday, the European Parliament announced that they’re banning TikTok from all government staff devices due to cybersecurity concerns. The video-sharing app is now banned in all three of the European Union’s (EU) main government institutions. 

“In view of cybersecurity concerns, in particular regarding data protection and collection of data by third parties, the European Parliament has decided, in alignment with other institutions, to suspend as from 20 March 2023, the use of the TikTok mobile application on corporate devices,” it said in a statement reported by CNN

The parliament also “strongly recommends that members and staff remove TikTok from their personal devices.”

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TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, told CNN “it’s disappointing to see that other government bodies and institutions are banning TikTok on employee devices with no deliberation or evidence.”

“These bans are based on basic misinformation about our company, and we are readily available to meet with officials to set the record straight about our ownership structure and our commitment to privacy and data security,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“We share a common goal with governments that are concerned about user privacy, but these bans are misguided and do nothing to further privacy or security. We appreciate that some governments have wisely chosen not to implement such bans due to a lack of evidence that there is any such need.”

A senior EU official working out of the European Council also told CNN that the General Secretariat of the Council, which is responsible for assisting the representatives of each of the 27 countries in the EU, “is in the process of implementing measures similar to those taken by the Commission.”

“It will be uninstalling the application on corporate devices and requesting staff to uninstall it from personal mobile devices that have access to corporate services,” the official added.

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“The Secretariat continuously keeps its cybersecurity measures under review in close cooperation with the other EU institutions. The ban on TikTok applies only to devices overseen by the EU’s executive branch. This measure aims to protect the Commission against cybersecurity threats and actions which may be exploited for cyber-attacks against the corporate environment of the Commission,” it said in a statement.

A TikTok spokesperson discussed how at this time they were working to contact the commission as a means of “setting the record straight, and explaining how we can protect the data of the 125 million people across the EU who come to TikTok every month.” 

In America, government agencies have had similar restrictions, with the White Horse directing federal agencies to remove the app from all government-issued devices over cybersecurity concerns. 

Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson, stated that “the ban of TikTok on US federal devices passed in December without any deliberation, and unfortunately that approach has served as a blueprint for other world governments.”

“We hope that when it comes to addressing national security concerns about TikTok beyond government devices, Congress will explore solutions that won’t have the effect of censoring the voices of millions of Americans.”

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US House Of Representatives Banned From Using TikTok On Their Electronic Devices 

According to an internal notice sent to the staff of the House of Representatives – obtained by CNN from the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer – TikTok has been banned from any and all electronic devices used and owned by members of the House of Representatives and prospective staff.

The notice stated that the app must be uninstalled from any House mobile device if it’s already installed. This is due to the government’s view of TikTok being a “high risk to users due to a number of security risks.” 

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The US government has also been in talks to ban TikTok from all federal devices in the near future. This ban is a part of a piece of legislation included in the omnibus bill recently signed by President Joe Biden. More than a dozen states throughout the US have also already implemented their own restrictions and prohibitions on TikTok on government devices.

While TikTok hasn’t made any official comment regarding this recent ban on House devices, the company previously stated that the government’s moves to ban the app is a “political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests.”

One of the biggest concerns coming from lawmakers regarding TikTok involves the social media app’s parent company, ByteDance. 

US policymakers are concerned about national security and the risk of the Chinese government pressuring either TikTok or its parent company into acquiring, using, and sharing personal information specifically from its US users. 

This information is thought to be potentially used for Chinese intelligence operations or the sharing of disinformation backed by China’s government. 

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While there hasn’t been any direct instances or attempts of these security breaches occurring, the platform did confirm last week that four employees were fired for accessing user data on TikTok from two journalists. 

The battle between the US government and TikTok has been ongoing since 2020, when the app truly began rising in popularity; partially due to the pandemic and quarantine restrictions that left citizens at home yearning for entertainment. 

Both the government and the platform have been working on negotiations to resolve any potential national security risks so that the app can continue to be used by US citizens. 

“The potential agreement under review covers key concerns around corporate governance, content recommendation and moderation, and data security and access,” TikTok has stated

For now, the US government is moving forward with its plans to ban the social media platform from all government used/connected devices, with the potential for wider bans to be implemented in the future.

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US and TikTok Draft Deal To Resolve National Security Concerns

The Biden Administration and social media platform TikTok are drafting a deal to resolve concerns over the company’s data policies and its threat to U.S. national security. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.

The resolution would allow ByteDance to keep ownership of the company but would make changes to its “data security and governance,” according to The New York Times. The two parties are still negotiating the terms of the deal, which aims to protect American data from the Chinese government.

The Justice Department is steering the negotiations with TikTok. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who was also a national security official in President Obama’s administration, believes that the current agreement terms are not rigorous enough to adequately protect national security. The Treasury Department is also involved in the negotiations and is skeptical that the deal will sufficiently protect American data. The Treasury Department plays a significant role in approving agreements that have the potential to incite national security vulnerabilities.

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The hesitancy from the government may drag out the final resolution for months. TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew insists that the company is not interested in sharing U.S. data with the Chinese government and considers itself a “separate US-based entity subject to U.S. laws.” Chew asserts that TikTok has “not provided U.S. user data to the CCP, nor would we if asked.”

“Employees outside the U.S., including China-based employees, can have access to TikTok U.S. user data subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by our US-based security team.”

However, ByteDance still owns TikTok, and some ByteDance employees can still access TikTok user data. With midterms set for November, politicians turned their attention back to the security issue.

According to the deal, TikTok would store its American data on U.S. servers, likely run by the tech company Oracle, instead of its servers in Singapore and Virginia. Oracle would monitor TikTok algorithms for foreign government interference in user content recommendations. The worry is that the Chinese government will be able to use those recommendations to influence American users and politics. TikTok would also have to create a board of security experts to report to the U.S. government to oversee its actions.

Jake Williams, a former National Security Agency hacker, spoke about how Chinese government access to U.S. data creates a power imbalance between the two countries.

“Let’s assume for a second that U.S. intelligence has access to WeChat. They would have to fight hard for that access, and it would constantly be at risk of discovery and neutralization. China, on the other hand, doesn’t have to fight for access to TikTok; they have it by statutory authority.”

Williams continues, “the potential for Chinese data collection across the platform is a larger concern, especially when combined with other data already acquired by Chinese state actors.”

TikTok announced last week that it would ban political fundraising on its platform to prevent politicians from using it to grow their campaigns.

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In 2020, former President Donald Trump tried to force the sale of TikTok over similar national security concerns. TikTok initially agreed to sell a part of TikTok to Oracle, but the deal never came to fruition. The Biden Administration is taking a more nuanced approach to regulating the company’s access to American data.

Kian Vesteinsson, a research analyst for the nonprofit Freedom House, which advocates for political freedom, said that “there are definitely signs that Chinese influence efforts are likely to grow, linked to the Chinese government’s strategy more broadly of digital authoritarianism.”

“But it’s important for us to acknowledge that the U.S. government has its own shadowy national security surveillance authorities. And in recent years, U.S. government agencies have monitored social media accounts of people coordinating protests in the U.S. and done things like searched electronic devices throughout the country and at the border. These sorts of tactics undermine the idea that this is only a foreign threat.”

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GLAAD Report Shows Social Media Giants Aren’t Doing Enough To Protect LGBTQ Users

When it comes to protecting groups that are vulnerable to slurs and harassment, a new report shows major social media platforms are falling short.

According to advocate group GLAAD’s Social Media Safety Index (SMSI), which assesses and provides recommendations for the five major platforms (TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter), all platforms scored below 50% out of a possible 100%.

The SMSI grades platforms on 12 LGBTQ-specific factors, which include gender pronouns on user profiles, third-party advertisers, content moderator training, actions to restrict harmful content, and stopping the removal of or demonetizing legitimate LGBTQ content.

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Coming in the highest was Instagram (48%), while TikTok came in last with 43%. Twitter scored the most zeros across the 12 categories with five. How LGBTQ members are received on social media plays a big role in the real world, GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis explained.

“This type of rhetoric and “content” that dehumanizes LGBTQ people has real-world impact. These malicious and false narratives, relentlessly perpetuated by right-wing media and politicians, continue to negatively impact public understanding of LGBTQ people — driving hatred, and violence, against our community,” Ellis said in a letter.

Ellis noted that the strategy of using misunderstanding and hate to help support legislation by politicians, which have proposed 325 anti-LGBTQ bills since the start of 2022, is something “we’ve seen across history.”

The SMSI grades line up with how users feel. A survey by GLAAD found that 84% of LGBTQ adults agree there aren’t enough protections on social media to prevent discrimination, harassment, or disinformation, while 40% of LGBTQ adults and 49% of transgender and nonbinary people don’t feel safe on social media.

The five platforms did excel in certain areas. Meta (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram) was just one of two that disclosed information on the training of content moderators while having a clear policy on prohibiting LGBTQ-offensive advertising.

GLAAD also highlighted TikTok and Twitter’s feature of preventing users from misgendering or deadnaming nonbinary and transgender people and recommended all platforms follow that innovative lead.

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“This recommendation remains an especially high priority in our current landscape where anti-trans rhetoric and attacks are so prevalent, vicious, and harmful,” GLAAD’s senior director of social media safety, Jenni Olson, said.

However, those positives were overshadowed by a sea of negatives that ultimately resulted in failing grades. Most were docked for their policies’ limitations and enforcement, while GLAAD explained TikTok was lacking “adequate transparency” in several areas.

“The company currently does not disclose options for users to control the company’s collection of information related to their sexual orientation and gender identity,” the report said, recommending it should give users control over their own data and diversify their workforce.

“Notably, TikTok was the only company that did not disclose any information on steps it takes to diversify its workforce.”

Ellis called the companies’ performances “unacceptable.” “At this point, after their years of empty apologies and hollow promises, we must also confront the knowledge that social media platforms and companies are prioritizing profit over LGBTQ safety and lives.”

The safety of social media is particularly important when considering the vulnerable states of young LGBTQ users. According to The Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered committing suicide in the last year, while 73% reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety.