TikTok lost a battle but Washington has yet to win the battle

TikTok has lost a major battle in Washington, and its ban in the United States seems inevitable, even if the government has to show tact before withdrawing the very popular platform from 150 million Americans.

His boss, Shau Chew, faced a rolling firestorm of attacks from a powerful parliamentary committee on Thursday, never really getting an opportunity to respond.

Elected officials, in an extraordinary united front on the right and left, accuse TikTok, a subsidiary of Chinese ByteDance, of serving as a tool for Beijing to spy on and manipulate Americans.

A hearing that ended in a “disaster” for the platform, said Dan Yves of WebDush Securities, who expects “calls from lawmakers and the White House to ban TikTok in the United States if ByteDance agrees to does not fall apart”.

Unless ByteDance finds a US buyer in “three to six months”, he estimates “TikTok will probably be banned by the end of the year”.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre spoke of “ongoing conversations with ByteDance” on Thursday evening and specified that the government “strongly supports” the RESTRICT Act, one of the bills aimed at banning TikTok .

The text, debated by senators this month, gives the Commerce Department new powers to ban technologies that threaten national security.

– “Bad calculation” –

On Friday morning, the conservative New York Post newspaper made its front page headline “TikTok’s Balance Sheet” with a photo of the parents of a deceased teen present at Thursday’s hearing.

She recently filed a lawsuit against the platform, accusing her of showing her son thousands of unwanted suicide videos.

TikTok boss Sho Zi Chew makes a statement to the press before his hearing by the US Congress in Washington, March 23, 2023 (AFP – OLIVIER DOULIERY)

“Your company destroyed their lives,” said Representative Gus Bilirakis, pointing to the family.

User data privacy, content moderation led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), misinformation, addiction, dangerous challenges, the mental and physical health of children and adolescents…the list of complaints against elected officials is long.

Prior to the hearing, highlighting its popularity in the United States, the platform tried to anticipate it with a campaign, according to Insider Intelligence analyst Jasmine Enberg, which was a “miscalculation” that undermined lawmakers’ “arguments”. confirmed”.

150 million users in the United States is “so many Americans on which the CCP can collect sensitive information to, ultimately, control what they see, hear and believe”, said Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of the Committee The chairman said.

TikTok has also called on influencers to defend the service that made them famous.

But “highlighting TikTok’s economic impact is also a tricky strategy, given that its growth has come partly at the expense of US companies like Meta. Instagram and YouTube will be the first beneficiaries of a ban in the United States”. United.

– Political calculation –

The United States has already tried to Americanize or ban TikTok: Former President Donald Trump, particularly incensed by ridicule users’ content, was used in vain in the name of national security.

The current strong tensions with China bring Republicans and Democrats together this time, and voices seem independent.

But independence NGOs, some elected officials and many experts argue that TikTok presents essentially the same problems as Facebook, Twitter and others.

“From a security point of view, we can certainly come up with a solution that minimizes the perceived risks,” Michael Daniels, director of the cyber security NGO Cyber ​​Threat Alliance, told AFP.

“But will it be satisfactory to politicians? That is another question.”

A ban would mean that “the United States, a democracy, takes measures that restrict the ability of young voters (TikTok users) to express themselves and earn a living”, Sarah Kreps, professor of law and tech policy Says the director of the institute.

“Given the cost of such a decision and its limited benefits,” she adds, “legislators should first consider effective data protection laws and risk containment strategies, such as +Project Texas+”, an attempt to protect US data by TikTok. Proposed agreement for security.

“We’re committed to providing a safe and inclusive platform,” TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas tweeted on Thursday. “It’s a shame that today’s conversation seemed to be fueled by xenophobia.”

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