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TikTok’s Defense of Free Speech Faces Challenges in the Face of National Security Concerns

TikTok Faces Ban (Credits: NDTV)

The Biden administration and Congress have taken steps to force TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to sell the platform or face a sweeping ban in the US.

However, the fight is far from over, as TikTok and ByteDance will now argue in US courts that the government is improperly limiting free speech. The Biden White House has emphasized that a spinoff of TikTok is preferred over a ban, which would block the platform’s 170 million American users from posting and viewing videos.

The White House has urged some people to avoid the platform, banning federal employees and contractors from downloading TikTok to government or personal devices used for official activity.

TikTok and National Security (Credits: The Hill)

However, the Biden reelection campaign has a TikTok account used to circulate videos boosting the incumbent and criticizing his challenger, Donald Trump.

Having failed to sway Congress, ByteDance has vowed to shift to the courts, arguing that a forced sale backed by the threat of a ban amounts to an infringement of First Amendment rights enjoyed by both TikTok users and the platform itself.

The US Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the government risks unconstitutionally interfering with speech rights when it imposes burdens that stop short of totally silencing individuals or organizations.

TikTok CEO Shou Chew stated, “The facts and the Constitution are on our side, and we expect to prevail.” The company will argue that cutting off Americans’ access to TikTok because of concerns about Chinese disinformation might be viewed as extreme interference.

Skeptics of the new law have countered that user data is widely available from third-party commercial data brokers, making it difficult for the US government to argue that it is acting to protect citizens’ privacy.

Proposed TikTok Ban (Credits: Ethnic Media Services)

However, the claim that TikTok presents a real threat to US national security would be more difficult for ByteDance to overcome, as the US Supreme Court typically gives the government wide latitude when it plausibly invokes dangers to national safety.

The outcome is far from certain, and it will be up to the Supreme Court to weigh free speech rights online against the danger of potential Chinese interference in US civic affairs.

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