The Debate Over Banning TikTok Is Getting Even More Complicated

The upcoming election is one big factor

TikTok logo
Could the fate of a social media app become a huge election-year issue? Maybe!
Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Could TikTok become a campaign issue in the ongoing presidential race? As bizarre as that might have seemed a year or two earlier, it’s begun to feel far more plausible. The app — and its status as a subsidiary of the Chinese company ByteDance — is at the center of a host of controversies this year, not the least of which is what its future in the United States looks like.

On Friday, President Joe Biden said that he would sign legislation banning the app or forcing a sale of it if such a bill crossed his desk. As The Washington Post‘s Will Oremus and Drew Harwell pointed out, that doesn’t guarantee anything — especially since the Senate has nothing comparable to a bill that the House of Representatives will vote on next week.

As for Biden’s likely general election opponent, former President Donald Trump had recently eased his criticism of TikTok — and has instead directed his social media-related ire at Facebook as of late. MSNBC’s Zeeshan Aleem observed that Trump isn’t TikTok’s only defender — TikTok itself is rallying users to support it.

It’s also worth pointing out that this is far from the only controversy TikTok is presently embroiled in. Universal Music Group recently pulled music from the service — something that has had significantly more impact than expected on some artists who use the platform to promote their work. (Vulture’s Justin Curto has a good rundown of the issues at stake here.) There’s also the matter of TikTok’s impact on the publishing world, which seems to be doing some introspection of its own.

The idea of TikTok prompting single-issue voters to dramatically transform the U.S. electorate seems surreal, but then — stranger things have happened in politics. Though there’s also another enduring question looming over this whole debate, which is to say — at what point will another social network supplant TikTok? Last month, Nitish Pahwa wrote at Slate that TikTok “may finally be entering its flop era.” No social network stays in the spotlight forever — but TikTok’s timing could have ramifications that go far beyond viral videos.

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