OPINION: Tik Tok Ban – National security threat or political maneuver?

While juggling Chinese spy balloons and Russian nukes, the United States still has its focus on one national security threat: TikTok. Embraced by nearly half of our country’s population, TikTok has been under heat from both the Trump and Biden administration since the 2020 pandemic due to hazy accusations of user data exploitation at the hands of Chinese spies. 

Many states have already banned the app on government-issues devices, with Montana being the first state to ban the app entirely. Users immediately sued the state, claiming infringements on first amendment rights. Though endeavors such as selling the Chinese-owned application to American grounds are unfruitful due to China’s rejection of such a deal. The real question lies whether TikTok is as big of a threat as people claim — both security wise and, for parents, mentally. 

Although reports of the app monitoring journalists were revealed, this is not the first social media site to face security vulnerability. 

“TikTok probably is as much of a risk as any other app,” said Andy Reeder, a DePaul Cybersecurity Law Professor. “Where personal data could be used to promote targeted attacks.” 

The threat of banning TikTok is less so a national security concern and more so the cherry on top to a multi-tiered cake of long-standing political games between the U.S. and China. If the Biden Administration were so concerned about data privacy, Mark Zuckerberg would not be leaving the courts unscathed everytime Meta produced another scandal. 

“The identification of TikTok as a national security threat may be less of an actual threat than a politically charged statement,” Reeder said.

The U.S. has not fully weaned off their economic dependency on China, now they propose a ridiculously ineffective ban on an app which fostered community building to many youth in America. 

As an avid TikTok user, I am obviously against the ban.

The pathway to banning TikTok is an unorganized waste of time, as the Federal Trade Commission and courts cannot identify clear violations of privacy laws on TikTok’s part. 

Reeder has experience dealing with these kinds of privacy laws. 

“In the absence of a privacy law specifically targeting social media, I don’t think it will be possible to ban TikTok from all use in the U.S,” he said. 

Managing our personal information is fundamental to effective internet safety, far more than restricting every app we come across. 

When pressing “I agree” to apps’ terms and conditions, it’s important for us to be conscientious of what exactly we are agreeing to. 

“What the End User License Agreement states when signing up for a TikTok account – e.g., what data sharing are you permitting as an individual user?” Reeder said.

Now, if you are a fellow rookie to this tech bro information, you are at least no stranger to the crowd of parents joining alongside the ban on TikTok, blaming it for the mental and emotional woes of today’s youth. Ironic given their Facebook feeds are riddled with moms boasting scary snapchat filters and political rants with poor grammar. 

TikTok poses a unique benefit for youth in its easy access to authentically relatable content and outspoken users. I cannot help but remember all the positive ways people coalesced together during the Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement during 2020, finding solace in shared struggles. 

For many DePaul youth, TikTok is also a place of diverse discovery. DePaul student Frankie Jarrett finds many benefits in using the platform to co- run and promote her friend’s app “Unfound”. Created by Yasmeena Faycurry, Unfound is an app where people can discover local restaurant businesses in their city, offering a resource for delicious food and new experiences. The accessibility of such cultural opportunities is what inspired Jarrett to join Unfound’s team.

Being a part of the Unfound team gave me the opportunity to meet new people within the food industry as well as try restaurants I wouldn’t typically be interested in,” Jarrett said. 

Unfound’s TikTok, with its 65,000followers, amassed so many supporters due to the vast community of city-dwellers who use the app on TikTok. 

“Since downloading the app, I’ve been exposed to more information than ever before from a diverse group of people,” Jarrett said. “I was able to learn and hear opinions that I didn’t through apps such as Instagram or Facebook.” 

TikTok’s uniquely diverse algorithm allows for extensive exposure to niche content that other apps might not. For me, I can confidently say that I have discovered many nook and cranny places in Chicago. It was through a TikTok post that I discovered one of my favorite bookstores called Quimby’s in Wicker Park, a homely space with a cute vintage photobooth and vast collection of locally produced zines. 

In a world where multimedia applications are the standard for entertainment, it is only natural we spend a lot of time enjoying the convenience of being online. 

But like myself, many youth understand the realities of overwhelming social standards and the potential of addictive and problematic content online. 

“I do acknowledge societal beauty standards that are pushed on TikTok,” Jarrett said. 

And with this recognition comes the personal responsibility of developing a well-rounded consumer intake to maintain balanced intra and interpersonal relationships. 

Adrianne Stoner, a communications professor specializing in “living online” identifies this practice as a healthy media diet. 

“It’s not all bad,” Stoner said about TikTok. “But just like any other medium it’s important to be mindful of what you’re consuming, what impact that might have on you, your psyche, your self esteem or your relationships with other people”. 

The reality of using TikTok is that yes, sometimes we need breaks from the overwhelming nature of beauty standards and negative news, but if you truly enjoy indulging in the app’s fun trends and relatable self-disclosure like me, cutting off TikTok entirely is an ineffective band aid in managing the effects of social media. 

My favorite way to supplement my time on TikTok is getting to know myself outside of the online world through new hobbies and hot spots in Chicago. Not only does this give me an eye rest from the screen, but it gives me the autonomy to shape my self-esteem. 

I am sure I have not convinced Biden to post a thirst trap on TikTok, but hopefully I have given you some encouragement to give yourself the opportunity to have the best of both worlds with social media and real life. As simple as it sounds, educating yourself about the risks of sharing your personal data and navigating your personal engagement with social media are the ultimate keys to mental welfare and cyber safety. 

Now that summer is approaching, open up a good book on the pigeon filled streets of Chicago, sweat your way on the CTA to find treasures at the thrift store, or discover new restaurants with Unfound!