Rand Paul Is Right: Banning TikTok Would Be Idiotic

Three reasons not to ban the popular social media app


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Why is the government trying to ban TikTok? The popular social media app, which is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company, has come under fire from both Republicans and Democrats who are determined to get rid of it. They're worried the Chinese government has too much influence on the platform.

Never mind that more than 150 million Americans use TikTok to express themselves creatively, consume news they wouldn't find elsewhere, and keep themselves entertained—nanny state politicians like Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) and President Joe Biden think they should have the power to control what kinds of foreign content you're allowed to see.

Not everyone in Washington thinks banning TikTok is a good idea. Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) recently denounced the idea of giving the Biden administration more power to control social media.

Paul is right. Here are three reasons why letting the federal government prohibit TikTok is an idiotic idea.

First off, the dangers of TikTok have been overstated. Yes, it's true you can find really vile content on the platform—it's not all dance videos, recipes, and makeup tutorials. But that's not unique to TikTok; there's bad stuff in all corners of the internet. Just because a website or an app is bad sometimes for some people doesn't mean we should violate the First Amendment rights of millions of others. Censorship is censorship, even if it's well-intended. We should leave it to individuals, families, and schools to set restrictions on social media usage—not the federal government.

It's true that TikTok is unique in that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can pressure the company in ways that are bad. It's very likely that TikTok mutes certain controversial subjects, and takes down the accounts of dissidents in order to protect the CCP.

But the sad truth is that the U.S. government has applied similar pressure to American social media companies like Facebook and Twitter. Journalists have discovered that federal agencies like the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security regularly asked Twitter to delete content the government didn't approve of. My own reporting for Reason has revealed that the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention applied constant pressure on Facebook during the pandemic to restrict speech. If members of Congress are really so worried about government propagandists controlling the discourse on social media, they should start by putting their own house in order.

Lastly, any new law that gives the feds the power to ban TikTok could easily be weaponized against other companies. The RESTRICT Act, which is co-sponsored by Sens. John Thune (R–S.D.) and Mark Warner (D–Va.), empowers the Commerce Department to take action against foreign threats on social media. But lawmakers, national intelligence experts, and mainstream media pundits are constantly accusing Facebook of allowing too much foreign misinformation on the platform. This is the PATRIOT Act 2.0: If we give the government more tools to police TikTok, it's going to use them against all of us.

So let's leave TikTok alone. Not just because of the dance videos—but also because of the First Amendment.

Edited by John Osterhoudt; camera by Isaac Reese

Photo: Imagine China/Newscom; Petr Svancara/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Ron Sachs/CNP/ SplashNews/Newscom; Chris Kleponis—CNP/picture alliance / Consolidated News Photos/Newscom; Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom; Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Newscom