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US TikTok bill a slippery slope of censorship

The United States Congress has passed a bill by an overwhelming majority – 352 for and just 65 against – that could result in a nationwide ban of the popular video app TikTok.

The bill now proceeds to the Senate, where its fate will be decided – although lawmakers in the upper house have suggested it will receive a “thorough review” before any vote.

Should it pass this legislative hurdle, the bill would enable the US government to block its population – reportedly 51 per cent of whom use the app – from accessing TikTok.

The pretext for this extraordinary example of potential state censorship is concern that the current ownership of TikTok is a national security threat to the US.

The video app is the wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd, and the bill’s supporters claim the company is effectively a creature of the Chinese government, which could demand access to the data of TikTok’s US consumers any time it wants.

The only thing that would prevent TikTok from being blocked in the US, should the bill pass, is ByteDance selling its stake in TikTok, something it seems disinclined to do.

Instead, the company has continued to deny it has shared US user data with Chinese authorities and insist that it would not do so if requested. [The US government has yet to provide any evidence of such information sharing.] It has also criticised the legislative process so far as “secretive” and warned of the adverse impact on the seven million small US businesses that commercially utilise the platform and the 170m citizens who use it.

China’s government, meanwhile, has colourfully denounced the bill, accusing the US of “unjustly” behaving like a “bandit”.

US political opponents of the bill have used not dissimilar language when advocating the US should just warn consumers of data privacy and propaganda concerns and leave it at that, with one representative thundering, “The answer to CCP-style propaganda is not CCP-style oppression.”

There are further concerns that the bill has been drafted far too broadly and is, in effect, “a Trojan Horse” that would allow the executive branch of the US government – effectively the president – to ban any website or app merely by asserting that it is “controlled or guided” by a ‘foreign adversary’ [which might explain why President Biden has expressed enthusiasm for signing it into law].

Now, you might be wondering why you should care about a potential US law aimed at a social media platform that has barely – if at all – impinged on your awareness and you almost certainly have never used, but loathe on principle [a position that’s pretty much shared by this writer to be fair].

The reason is that this legislation represents a slippery slope, the bitter fruits of which are likely to end up rolling all the way down to this part of the world.

After all, you may have noticed a growing enthusiasm for censoring a wide array of content and views in this country [the flap over “pro-Kremlin garbage” ending up in RNZ stories being just one recent example].

As investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald has warned about the US legislation, “The TikTok bill is how rights erosions always, always, always work: Pick a target to start with that everyone hates or fears, so that everyone unites in support, and nobody wants to defend.

“Then the precedent is set, so when it expands inward, nobody can object any longer.”

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