TikTok’s US ban explained

You’ve probably heard word of the United States’ pending TikTok ban, but why is it happening and how did we get here? 

According to data published by Business of Apps, TikTok was the second most downloaded app of 2023 with 654 million downloads globally. This marks the first year that TikTok has dropped below Instagram in the rankings in three years. 

This might not be the case for much longer as US President Biden signed off on a bill that effectively bans TikTok in the States unless parent company ByteDance makes arrangements to sell the app. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the TikTok ban in the US and what it means for the rest of the world. 

What is going on with TikTok?

President Biden recently signed a bill requiring Chinese company ByteDance to sell TikTok in the next year or face a ban in the US, but how did we get here? 

US politicians first started to raise concerns about TikTok’s ownership and influence in late 2019, prompting the government to launch a review into ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly in November 2019. 

The investigation was prompted by concerns surrounding data collection, as well as the app’s reported censorship of the Hong Kong protests. The Guardian also revealed internal documents that instructed TikTok moderators to censor videos that mentioned Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, and the religious group Falun Gong. 

As concerns mounted, president-at-the-time Donald Trump stated that he was considering banning TikTok as “one of many” ways to retaliate against the Chinese government in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Trump went on to order ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US operations in 2020, but the ban fell to the side as Trump lost the presidency and Biden entered office. 

New concerns around data handling were raised in 2022 when a Buzzfeed report revealed that the data of US TikTok users had repeatedly been accessed by ByteDance employees in China. 

Despite this discovery, ByteDance has continuously denied that the app shares user data with the Chinese government, stating that ByteDance “is not an agent of China or any other country”.

This brings us to 2024. The US House of Representatives passed a bill demanding that TikTok sell the app’s US operations or risk being banned in the US, which was then signed by Biden. 

The signing of the bill prompted TikTok CEO and Singaporean businessman Shou Zi Chew to share a video titled ‘Response to TikTok Ban Bill’: 

“Make no mistake, this is a ban. A ban on TikTok, and a band on you and YOUR voice. Politicians may say otherwise, but don’t get confused, many who sponsored the bill admit a TikTok ban is their ultimate goal,” said the CEO in the video. 

“Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere. We are confident and we will keep fighting for your rights in the courts. The facts and the Constitution are on our side, and we expect to prevail again”. 

What happens if TikTok gets banned? 

If ByteDance fails to sell TikTok or convince the Biden administration to ditch the ban, the app will be removed from the Android and iOS app stores and blocked on all web hosting services in the US. 

Americans may be able to bypass the ban and continue to access TikTok and its video content using VPNs. However, creators and viewers could also choose to migrate to other social platforms for convenience. 

Will TikTok get banned in the UK? 

If TikTok is banned in the US, other countries could push to follow suit. 

The app is already banned from government-issued phones in the UK, Canada, and New Zealand, as well as on work-issued devices at the European Commission, due to data concerns. 

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