TikTok Ban Could Leave Millions Disconnected



Kaitlyn Xu, Editor-in-Chief

Walk into the halls of any high school, and within minutes, you will stumble across at least one group of teens with their phones propped up against a window frame, dancing to a trending song, ready to post the results on TikTok. The app has taken over high schools and middle schools, with 7/10 American teens being active on the app. Some have even gained a spout of popularity on the app themselves. 

Juniors Avery Zwirn and Rohan Kumbkarni are among the many teens who have managed to gain a large following on the app since its rise in popularity. Zwirn creates dance videos with friends and family, and Kumbkarni makes comedy videos. The app has provided an outlet for them, giving them an opportunity to create videos alongside 800 million other users. 

Kumbkarni loves the freedom the app offers. “Anyone can post whatever they want,” he said. “And it’s fun to make videos and just mess around with my friends”. Through making videos like these, simply “messing around with friends”, he’s grown a following of over 26,000 people, with a total of 779,000 likes. 

Whether it’s endlessly scrolling through hundreds of videos, or making your own, TikTok has been a way for teens to pass the monotonous hours, but as the app grows a larger audience, people have started to question the security of the app due to its Chinese ownership. 

The federal government has been discussing banning apps underneath TikTok’s parent company ByteDance; in late July and early August, talk of the ban had started to take form, and on Aug. 5th, President Trump formally passed an executive order, issuing the banning of Tiktok. 

The ban wouldn’t immediately cut off use from the app, rather “no longer be sent software updates, rendering TikTok unmanageable, and eventually nonfunctional, with time,” as said in an article published by NPR. This was originally supposed to take effect on Sept. 20 but later postponed to the 27th.

At surface level, this ban may seem insignificant, but so many have failed to see past the apps on their screens to the people, families, and communities that rely on them. 

In comes our next characters, a Chinese family living in America, banned from visiting their home, their sisters and brothers, their friends and family in China because of growing international tensions.  For most of these families, their only form of communication with anyone back home is through a single messaging app, WeChat. 

WeChat is one of the apps that is going to be included in this ban, and if this ban attempt is successful, so many of the 1.7 billion people that use it  could be cut off from their loved ones entirely.

My family is among one of the many that rely on apps like these as a last-ditch way to connect to relatives in China. Being from a Chinese-American family, it’s not an uncommon sight to be at a family gathering and see my mom or grandmother texting, calling, showing photos, and catching up with relatives through the app. 

The app is used by 1.7 billion people worldwide, and is the easiest and most convenient way for many people outside China to communicate with those inside. Apps like Skype and Zoom are banned in China due to the limited nature of Chinese media, leaving only Chinese-owned communication apps like Wechat allowed there in addition to landline phones, which are costly to use for overseas calls.

Just hours before the ban was to be implemented on the 27th, an emergency hearing was held in Washington DC, giving way to the concerns that the ban potentially infringes on peoples’ First Amendment rights. The official outcome of that hearing (decided by judge Carl Nichols of the U.S District Court) had blocked the ban temporarily, until the week after the election, but when the time came, the ban was postponed for another two weeks.

After months of tension and waiting, there is no clear future for the ban. The companies Oracle and Walmart had a deal to purchase a majority of TikTok’s shares, but with the inconsistent timeline, the deal still remains up in the air. Trump has shifted the majority of his focus away from the app’s ban, leaving many open-ends. President-elect Biden has called the app a “matter of genuine concern”, and the ban could roll over into his administration if put in place by Trump

There seems to be no clear future for the ban, leaving TikTokers like Kumbkarni and Zwirn dancing in the dark, and Chinese American families fearing disconnection.