US Vice President: Banning TikTok ‘Not at All the Goal’

 Austin, Texas — U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said the Biden administration has no intention to ban TikTok, the popular short video application from Chinese company ByteDance. 

Harris told ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday that a ban was “not at all the goal or the purpose of this conversation.”   

The White House urged the Senate last week to swiftly advance a bill that would force ByteDance to sell TikTok over privacy and national security concerns within six months or face a ban.  

U.S. officials and lawmakers worry that the Chinese government could access American consumers’ data on the platform, which could also be used to push a pro-Beijing agenda.

ByteDance denies it would provide such private data to the Chinese government, despite reports indicating it could be at risk.

The bill passed in the House on March 13 with overwhelming bipartisan support but has yet to advance in the Senate.  

China has firmly opposed any forced sale of TikTok.   

TikTok has urged its American users to call their representatives and tell them not to support the bill, leading to hundreds of phone calls to some senators, including a few death threats, according to The Associated Press. 

Despite the security and privacy concerns, many Americans are still enthusiastic about the app. 

An American social media influencer, who cannot reveal her real name due to her contract with a talent agency, has been on TikTok since 2021 and saw the popularity of her hairdressing videos explode to hundreds of thousands of views. 

She had no idea TikTok was owned by a Chinese company until it gave her a notification telling her to call her congressional representative, and then she read the news reports.   

“I am worried that I won’t be able to use TikTok,” she told VOA. “I think the communities on TikTok are great. You feel like you are part of a super large community when you watch a video. There are so many comments, [and] you can connect to so many more people.”  

TikTok has about 170 million users in the U.S., though its growth rate among youth last year hit a snag, The Wall Street Journal reported. Citing analytics company, the Journal reported the average monthly users between 18 and 24 dropped nearly 9% from 2022 to 2023. But the report said the drop probably has more to do with young people being too busy after the COVID-19 pandemic, when TikTok users skyrocketed, than with concerns over what the Chinese government may access. 

Texas-based cereal maker Greg Bastin started using TikTok during the pandemic. 

“I plan to use influencers on TikTok to help market my products, as I know it can be a powerful way to increase sales and create entertaining content at an affordable price,” he told VOA.   

But Bastin admits the security and privacy concerns mean he would not post personal content on TikTok.

“Giving up basic data rights is the price of admission for using social media platforms today,” he said. 

The Financial Times this month reported that TikTok generated a record $16 billion in revenue in the U.S. last year, and ByteDance could soon overtake Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta in global sales, though most of ByteDance’s income comes from China.

James Lewis, senior vice president of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA that if there are disruptions to TikTok, other short video platforms like Instagram will certainly benefit. But he said most American TikTok users are not going to quickly jump ship.  

“People use TikTok for a reason. They are not going to switch.” he said. “So, I think that it’s wishful thinking to say that if you close TikTok down, everyone will move to another platform.”   

A number of governments and institutions have banned TikTok on employee and contractor devices since 2022 over security concerns, including in Australia, Britain, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Taiwan and the United States.

India has banned TikTok and several other Chinese applications since 2020 after a deadly border clash with Chinese troops. 

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump issued a presidential order banning TikTok and Chinese messaging app WeChat in the U.S. and required ByteDance to either divest TikTok or cease business. 

Court orders stopped the move, and President Joe Biden revoked and replaced the order with a fresh investigation.

Biden’s administration is supporting the legislation for TikTok to be divested or face a ban, while Trump this month appeared to walk back on his previous aim to ban the app. 

The former president said in a call-in interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that he believed TikTok still posed a threat to national security but banning it would help Facebook, which he has attacked since his 2020 election loss.

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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