US senators present bill to ban TikTok

WASHINGTON, 26 Jan 2023:

Two Republican legislators presented a bill in congress yesterday which seeks to ban social media application TikTok in the US.

Senator Josh Hawlye and House of Representatives member Ken Buck, leading the proposal, accuse the Chinese application of being a “threat to the national security” of the US.

“TikTok is not only directly associated with the Chinese Communist Party, but has been used to spy on Americans,” congressman Buck wrote on his Twitter account.

The bill directs the executive to block and prohibit transactions by US entities or individuals with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance.

TikTok has denied accusations of this type in the past, saying it does not censor content or give the Chinese government access to its data.

In December, the congress passed a law banning the use of the popular video app on official federal government devices.

Several states – such as Texas, Alabama, Virginia or Tennessee – have already done the same at the state level, while territories such as Indiana have filed lawsuits against ByteDance for allegedly allowing Chinese espionage.

In 2019, and as part of his strategy to increase pressure on China, then-US president Donald Trump gave TikTok an ultimatum to transfer its operations to US companies if it did not want to be banned in the country, something that didn’t materialise.

TikTok has more than 100 million users in the US and has become one of the most popular social networks in the world in a short time, especially among teenagers.

Separately, US tech giant Meta announced it will reinstate the accounts of former president Donald Trump on Facebook and Instagram in the coming weeks – accounts that it suspended after the 6 Jan 2021, insurrection and assault on the US Capitol by a mob of his supporters.

In a statement, the firm explained that it suspending Trump’s accounts two years ago was an “extraordinary decision taken in extraordinary circumstances,” but it said “the public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying” to be able to make informed decisions at the ballot box.

Meta said it has now put “guardrails in place to deter repeat offences” in its updated account policy and that Trump’s accounts are being reinstated after offences “related to civil unrest” – meaning that if he or anyone else posts content violating the firm’s updated rules, they could be suspended for between one month and two years.

In addition, Meta warned it will monitor content with the capacity to create a similar “risk” to what occurred prior to the 2021 Capitol attack – that is, “the sort of risk that materialised on January 6th, such as content that delegitimises an upcoming election or is related to QAnon.”

If users attempt to post such content the firm may “limit distribution” of that content or restrict such users from the company’s advertising and recommendations systems.

The company indefinitely suspended Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts after the then-president applauded those perpetrating violent attacks on the US Capitol and on law enforcement personnel on 6 Jan 2021, but later it limited that suspension to two years after referring the matter to its Oversight Board.

In its statement by Meta’s president of global affairs Nick Clegg, the firm said it had concluded the risk to public safety “has sufficiently receded” to be able to reinstate Trump’s accounts once the two-year ban lapses, but it acknowledged that there is an important ongoing debate about the responsibility of the social networks regarding the content they host.

Clegg said in his statement that Meta believes “the public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying – the good, the bad and the ugly – so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box.” However, he said, “that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform.”

Given his previous violations, Trump will now face “heightened penalties for repeat offences,” said the firm, noting that he could be suspended again for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of any new violation.

“In the event that Mr Trump posts content that violates the letter of the Community Standards but, under our newsworthy content policy, we assess there is a public interest in knowing that Mr Trump made the statement that outweighs any potential harm, we may similarly opt to restrict the distribution of such posts but leave them visible on Mr. Trump’s account,” the firm stated.

“We know that any decision we make on this issue will be fiercely criticised. Reasonable people will disagree over whether it is the right decision.”

Trump reacted to the announcement via his own social network forum, Truth Social, by posting a message there stating that “FACEBOOK, which has lost Billions of Dollars in value since ‘deplatforming’ your favourite President, me, has just announced that they are reinstating my account. Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution!”

After the Capitol assault, Twitter also suspended Trump’s account. That social network was the one that Trump used most often and on which he had the most followers, and last November the former president was readmitted to Twitter on the order of its new owner, magnate Elon Musk, although Trump answered that he was not interested in returning.

Nevertheless, Trump’s apparent refusal to resume his activities on his old accounts contrasts with reports by Rolling Stone magazine indicating he is planning to end his exclusivity agreement with Truth Social – which would have to be renewed in June – and return to Twitter with an eye toward his 2024 presidential campaign.