The Fate of TikTok Under the Biden Administration - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
27622
post-template-default,single,single-post,postid-27622,single-format-standard,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,select-theme-ver-3.3,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-6.6.0,vc_responsive
 

The Fate of TikTok Under the Biden Administration

The Fate of TikTok Under the Biden Administration

Due to the rebranding of a popular app, Musical.ly, targeted marketing, and a pandemic that left millions with free time and in need of a distraction from a lockdown, there was a massive surge in downloads of the social media platform, TikTok.1 In early 2021, TikTok had over one billion users worldwide and was downloaded over 200 million times in the United States.2 TikTok is one of the most popular applications, with predictions that, in 2021, the platform will reach the same active monthly users as the reigning titan social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WeChat, and WhatsApp.3 Due to the incredibly fast growth of TikTok, there was little time for the masses to reflect and consider the political and data privacy implications of the new application.4Recently, legislation and lobbying to restrict social media platforms has increased since the public has called on the government to regulate the ‘wild west’ of social media due to data breaches, crimes, and election misinformation on these platforms.5 Therefore, after TikTok’s meteoric rise in popularity, the was fierce criticism from the Trump Administration.6 Scrutiny by the Trump Administration was heightened after a group of TikTokers coordinated a plan to register for President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma and not actually attend the event.7

On August 6, 2020, President Donald Trump issued executive orders to block all transactions with the parent company of TikTok, ByteDance, and the parent company of WeChat, Tencent, which are both China-based companies.8 Then, President Trump issued an executive order requiring ByteDance to sell or transfer TikTok’s U.S. operations within ninety days and destroy all copies of U.S. citizens’ data.9 ByteDance and Tencent quickly filed complaints against the U.S. government for deprivation of due process, while multiple U.S. companies began offering to purchase the U.S. operations from the Chinese parent companies.10 The main proposed deal would be to transform TikTok into a new company that is twenty percent owned by a U.S. company, namely Oracle Corporation or Walmart Inc.11 However, the controversial 2020 presidential election took over all of President Trump’s focus and the TikTok ban was placed on the backburner.12

The Biden Administration issued a stay on the TikTok and WeChat ban, as the administration investigates the supposed security issues of the applications.13 Lindsay Gorman, a fellow for emerging technologies at the Alliance for Securing Democracy in Washington, D.C., predicts the Biden administration will be more methodical in examining the privacy implications from the application, rather than forcing an immediate sale of TikTok.14 Gorman reports, “In the context of TikTok, the Trump administration’s approach was really characterized by drama, by personalization of the process, by almost a war of bravado between Trump and Xi [Jinping] to some extent. And I don’t think we’re going to see any of that when it comes to the Biden administration.”15 Lobbyists and scholars are pushing for President Biden to create a broad framework for addressing privacy and national security risks for all applications and social media platforms.16

The key reasons opponents of TikTok call for a banning of the Chinese application are because of data insecurity, child grooming, and the spread of misinformation.17 Firstly, some countries, like India, have completely banned TikTok because the parent company may be ordered to disclose users’ data to the Chinese government due the country’s extreme national security laws.18 Therefore, the Trump administration highlighted the dangers of the Chinese government obtaining millions of U.S. users’ data and the risk of subliminal Chinese propaganda on the app.19 Second, the application, like many of its social media predecessors, faces major issues protecting children from child grooming and trafficking through the application.20 TikTok’s predecessor application, Musical.ly, was heavily fined by the United Sates and South Korean government for illegally collecting data of minors.21 In response, TikTok stopped collecting minors’ data and restricted users under sixteen from receiving direct messages and automatically placed their accounts as private.22 Additionally, TikTok created the “Family Safety Mode” where guardians can link their children’s accounts to control usage, block content, and oversee their direct messages.23 The last problem TikTok faces is the spread of misinformation. The application created robust procedures to prevent the spread of misinformation in anticipation of the 2020 election, and was praised as advanced since many social media platforms that have been in the space for years have failed to prevent the spread.24 TikTok issues frequent transparency reports disclosing their procedures to stop misinformation.25 The reports describe the applications process of flagging misinformation, which is then placed under review and investigated for accuracy (which may be outsourced to PolitiFact and Lead Stories), and then either removed (which a creator can appeal), or placed under a banner to notify users of potentially unverified content.26 TikTok removed over 340,000 U.S. videos during the second half of 2020 for spreading “election misinformation, disinformation, or manipulated media.”27 Therefore, TikTok has quickly responded to opponents calling for a ban of the application by addressing issues head on and creating guidelines that rival other platforms that have been operating for years.


  1. See Rani Molla, Posting Less, Posting More, and Tired of It All: How the Pandemic Has Changed Social Media, Vox (Mar. 1, 2021, 12:20 pm), https://www.vox.com/recode/22295131/social-media-use-pandemic-covid-19-instagram-tiktok [https://perma.cc/U2TH-UMQR].

  2. See generally Marvellous, 50 Important TikTok Statistics for 2021, iconosquare (Jan. 5, 2021), https://blog.iconosquare.com/50-important-tiktok-statistics-for-2021/ [https://perma.cc/GL9K-DP55].

  3. Id.

  4. See id.

  5. See Molla, supra note 1.

  6. See Zheping Huang, TikTok Is Joe Biden’s Problem Now, Bloomberg (Jan. 26, 2021), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2021-01-26/tiktok-is-joe-biden-s-problem-now [https://perma.cc/E534-354K].

  7. See Abram Brown, Is This The Real Reason Why Trump Wants To Ban TikTok?, Forbes (Aug. 1, 2020), https://www.forbes.com/sites/abrambrown/2020/08/01/is-this-the-real-reason-why-trump-wants-to-ban-tiktok/ [https://perma.cc/ZYL2-JGJ5].

  8. See Brian Fung, Biden Administration Seeks a Pause On TikTok, WeChat Court Fights, CNN (Feb. 11, 2021), https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/11/tech/biden-admin-tiktok/index.html [https://perma.cc/38P7-J4PA]; Lora Kolodny, Trump orders ByteDance to divest from its U.S. TikTok business within 90 days, CNBC (Aug. 14, 2020), https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/14/president-trump-orders-bytedance-to-divest-from-its-us-tiktok-business-within-90-days.html [https://perma.cc/6G2Y-WSER].

  9. See id.

  10. See id.

  11. Id.

  12. See id.

  13. See Zheping Huang, TikTok Is Joe Biden’s Problem Now, Bloomberg (Jan. 26, 2021), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2021-01-26/tiktok-is-joe-biden-s-problem-now [https://perma.cc/E534-354K].

  14. See id.

  15. Id.

  16. See id.

  17. Should TikTok Be Banned?, Parent Zone (Feb. 23, 2021), https://parentzone.org.uk/article/should-tiktok-be-banned [https://perma.cc/C9CD-GATU].

  18. See id.

  19. See id.

  20. See id.

  21. See id.

  22. See id.

  23. Id.

  24. See Kari Paul, TikTok: False Posts About US Election Reach Hundreds of Thousands, The Guardian (Nov. 5, 2020), https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/nov/05/tiktok-us-election-misinformation [https://perma.cc/7J9L-WB3S].

  25. See id.

  26. See id.; Chris Mills Rodrigo, TikTok rolls out new political misinformation policies, The Hill (Aug. 5, 2020), https://thehill.com/policy/technology/510727-tiktok-rolls-out-new-political-misinformation-policies [https://perma.cc/7Y4E-ZW26].

  27. See Matt Binder, TikTok Removed Hundreds of Thousands of Videos Spreading Misinformation About the Election and COVID-19, Mashable (Feb. 24, 2021), https://mashable.com/article/tiktok-misinformation-transparency-report-2020/ [https://perma.cc/7YS9-XQSQ].

Sara Brown

Sara Brown is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham Universit School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She is also a Decennial Fellow for the Center of Law and Information Privacy. She completed a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with Concentrations in Business Economics and Information Systems at Fordham University Gabelli School of Business.