TikTok Ban: National Security and the First Amendment

 

印媒指解放军”61398部队”发动黑客攻击。(互联网)

 

TikTok poses a significant national security risk, yet banning it could infringe on the First Amendment.

Many US lawmakers advocate for its ban due to this recognized threat, primarily focusing on its extensive data collection practices. TikTok collects various user data, including browsing history, location, and potentially biometric identifiers, raising concerns about access by the Chinese government. China’s National Intelligence Law mandates that all companies and entities aid the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in intelligence gathering and that they turn over all data when requested to do so.

Influence operations present another potential concern. The CCP’s United Front Work Department oversees foreign influence and propaganda efforts. Operating thousands of social media accounts, it disseminates disinformation, shapes public opinion, and influences elections.

Although less common, there is also a malware risk associated with TikTok. The People’s Liberation Army’s Unit 61398, also known as APT1, is China’s military hacking unit. The U.S. Intelligence community has identified China as a major hacking threat, with numerous high-profile hacks and cybercrimes linked to the Chinese government. There’s a possibility that TikTok or its updates could contain malicious code, potentially granting Beijing access to data and allowing activities such as spying on U.S. military or government personnel by remotely activating device cameras.

A pervasive threat across all social media platforms, including TikTok, is active monitoring by China. The Chinese government employs numerous highly sophisticated and costly programs for monitoring and analyzing social media content. This data enables identification of users and understanding of their preferences, facilitating tailored propaganda messaging. Additionally, China can access users’ location, demographics, social connections, affiliations, and family details. This wealth of information serves Beijing in recruiting agents or identifying vulnerable individuals susceptible to exploitation or corruption.

As Congress considers a TikTok ban, opponents have initiated TikTok campaigns, threatening lawmakers with potential loss of votes in the next election if they support the ban. This underscores the risks associated with TikTok. Without an FBI investigation, it’s impossible to determine whether these individuals acted independently or if they were paid by Beijing.

Monitoring US social media grants Beijing a deep insight into American society, allowing them to identify vulnerabilities, exploit divisions, and shape public opinion to meet their strategic goals. Therefore, there’s no dispute regarding TikTok’s national security threat.

Some Americans, including Donald Trump, oppose a TikTok ban for two primary reasons: they view it as ineffective due to Beijing’s activity on all social media platforms, and they perceive it as a violation of the First Amendment.

In 2020, conservative social media accounts were frequently shut down, particularly those advocating against masks, school closures, lockdowns, vaccines, or the election results. Dissenting voices were silenced, creating a false impression that all scientists and doctors supported COVID measures. Conservatives value the freedom to express diverse viewpoints and have experienced censorship firsthand.

Yes, TikTok is a national security threat. And yes, it contains Chinese government propaganda and disinformation. But many liberals believe that conservative talking points are also disinformation. They reject claims that crime rates are up, illegal immigrants are illegal, funding Ukraine might be a bad idea, and the border is not secure. If they could, they would brand these positions as disinformation or Russian propaganda and ban them.

Mainstream media and the liberal establishment already disdain Twitter for allowing free speech. A common misconception about the First Amendment is that it solely protects speech we agree with, or speech that is “true,” or speech that “is not dangerous.” But during 2020 and 2021, we learned that the definition of “true” can be twisted. Banning untrue information becomes self-fulfilling because many people believe that only mainstream media is true. And if mainstream media refuses to print something, then it must not be true. As for “dangerous speech,” the only speech that is supposed to be censored is “a call to action” or “advocacy of illegal action.”

Hate speech is another area of contention. Who gets to determine what is or is not hate speech? There have already been people who lost their jobs or were kicked out of schools for stating, “There are only two genders.”

A TikTok ban sets a dangerous precedent for government censorship.

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