TikTok Turmoil: U.S. Legislation Threatens Ban if Not Sold to American Interests

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The US is supposed to be the leader of a free world and capitalism and a protector of property rights. That glorious emblem is now in jeopardy as American corporate greed has taken precedence over Western values on a delicate matter of ownership of a messaging app owned by a largely Chinese consortium embellishing minority shareholders within and outside the US.

As I write this article, the Speaker of the US House has indicated he will table the legislation granting TikTok nine months to sell the company to American citizens or companies, or it will be banned in the US. This article dives into the history of TikTok, why the US is determined to nationalize TikTok, what is the future of this legal turbulence, and the Chinese retaliatory acts that are quickly unfolding before our very eyes.

TikTok Historical Facts

The fairy tale of TikTok began in 2016 when Chinese company ByteDance launched an app called that allowed users to create and share short videos. Three months later, it was renamed Douyin (抖音)—(Douyin translates into ‘Shaking Sound’). TikTok hosts user-submitted videos, which can range in duration from three seconds to 10 minutes. It can be accessed with a smartphone app.

The founder of ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, stated that “China is home to only one-fifth of Internet users globally. If we don’t expand globally, we are bound to lose to peers eyeing the four-fifths. So, going global is a must.” In 2017, ByteDance began expanding Douyin outside of China under TikTok.

Later that year, ByteDance acquired, a short-form video app based in Shanghai with an US office in Santa Monica, California. lets users record lip-syncing videos and has an established user base in the United  States. ByteDance folded some of’s features into TikTok and used the acquisition to expand the app’s reach to include the US.

Read Related: Tanzanian Children’s Intelligence at Risk: The Dangers of Instagram and TikTok

While TikTok and Douyin share a similar user interface, the platforms operate separately. Douyin includes an in-video search feature that can search by people’s faces for more videos of them, along with other features such as buying, booking hotels, and making geo-tagged reviews.

During this time, the Douyin logo remained much the same. Created by an unnamed designer, the original logo started off as a simple “d” shape that resembled a musical note. Depending on the context, the logo was either black on a white background or white on a black background, with accent colours cyan and fuchsia adding the illusion of movement.

When ByteDance launched TikTok globally in 2017, the company decided to add the app’s name to the logo. Originally, the app name was two separate words: TikTok.

Since its launch, TikTok has become one of the world’s most popular social media platforms. It uses better recommendation algorithms than alternative apps to connect content creators with new audiences. Many of its users are young, of Generation Z. In April 2020, TikTok surpassed two billion mobile downloads worldwide. Cloudflare ranked TikTok the most popular website of 2021, surpassing Google. The popularity of TikTok has allowed viral trends in food and music to take off and increase the platform’s cultural impact worldwide.

However, TikTok has also attracted the ire of US lawmakers, politicians, and regulators, accusing it of compromising US national security, data privacy violations, mental health concerns, misinformation, offensive content, and its role during the Israel–Hamas war. Countries have fined, banned, or attempted to restrict TikTok to protect children or out of national security concerns over possible user data collection by the Chinese government through ByteDance.

US Congressional Acts Reflect Generational Gaps

Both Congressional Houses will pass the law that urges TikTok to sell or face a ban in the US within a month from now. This Congressional decision shows a remarkable age gap between the representatives, with the majority of TikTok users who tend to be young. Most Congressional representatives are over 60 years old, while most TikTok users are under 30 years old.

TikTok users in the US are over 170 million, which presents not only a socio-economic problem alone but a political one as well. The US is bracing for the November elections, and TikTok will be in its users’ minds as they vote. TikTok has paid tens of millions of dollars in ads, urging her app users to reach out to their Congressional representatives to stop interfering with their constitutional First Amendment rights, which protect free speech. So far, the TikTok ads have been counterproductive as the Congressional willpower is racing in the opposite direction.

Legal Battles Expected in the Near Future

All sides of the aisle anticipate that the legal conflict of interest will be fought in the courtrooms and will continue up to the US Supreme Court. Past attempts to ban TikTok during the Donald Trump presidency were met with hostility in courts. Still, legislators claim that the language of this new legal assault against TikTok has accommodated past court rulings. Time will tell.

The American courts will have to balance national security concerns against freedom of expression and speech. The claim that the Chinese authorities accessed data is risible because all messaging apps collect data and sell it to whoever needs it and is willing to buy it. That includes American companies such as META, X, and others. So, having American companies own TikTok is not a panacea against national security breaches.

It is a lame excuse to nationalize a prime foreign franchise to benefit American companies, and according to Trump, Meta will be the largest beneficiary if TikTok is eventually banned. Meta will monopolize the US in video social messaging services, contrary to US anti-competition laws!

Congressional legislation to compel TikTok to sell to Americans or face a ban amounts to nationalising a prime asset worth hundreds of billions of dollars, unprecedented in US history, and closeted blackmail. The Chinese government has also been issuing reprisals.

China Bans American Social Messaging Apps in the Apple Store and Play Store

The same reasons the US is using to justify the sale or ban of TikTok, a Chinese franchise, are guiding China on how to deal with the US protective actions against Chinese companies and products in a manner that threatens to unleash global trade wars.

The trade war between the US and its Western allies against China did not begin with TikTok but is in acceleration mode. The US banned Huawei’s most high-tech products, including 5G, citing national security. The US also banned cables and pylons, among others. The Biden Administration is pondering how to slap Chinese steel and other metal exports with a 25 % tax, raising it from 7.5% to protect local industries and jobs.

Apple said it pulled the Meta-owned apps WhatsApp and Threads from its app store in China on Chinese government orders, potentially escalating the war over technology between the United States and China.

The iPhone maker said that China’s internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration, ordered the removal of WhatsApp and Threads from its app store because of national security concerns. Apple said it complied because “we are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree.” Threads is a Meta social messaging app that imitates X, and TikTok has also introduced features that rival the two in text messaging.

Geopolitical Battles for Supremacy Are Expected to Ramp Up

The US armed China with a technological base that was barricaded for two reasons. One, to deploy China as a bulwark against the expansionist Soviet Union. Second, access to China’s large market and cheap labour were too good to pass for avaricious corporate America. Factors that led America to fall in love with China are all in the garbage bin, with hate and paranoia being their cheap substitutes!

The Soviet Union is dead, and China has copied everything and is now positioned to act alone, projecting power abroad in a manner that challenges America’s superpower status. In politics, a friend today may become an enemy tomorrow, and America is learning to spell “OUCH” in a painful way. Had America invested in Africa, China would not have been such a global bugbear.

Africans love peace, not wars, and fewer illegal immigrants would have been heading there to turn their beautiful country upside down. Paradoxically, the Chinese have formed the largest group of illegal immigrants in the US despite economic breakthroughs back home! Economic disparity, religious crackdowns and political suppression are often cited by illegal Chinese immigrants heading to the US as reasons behind dumping China for the US.

The challenge in American foreign policy is how to splinter China and Russia to weaken them. What was hailed as a diplomacy masterstroke that divided China and Russia during the Cold War is now unifying them against American imperialism? This has led to the creation of global institutions such as BRICS+ that are posing a serious threat to American global leadership. So far, America seems to have run out of ideas, as brute force shows signs of stuttering.

Also read South Africa is Leading BRICS in Rejecting America. Will it Succeed?

From Ukraine to Iran, American military brawn is being tested and found wanting. Overburdened by debts and global overreaching, the world is beginning to witness an empire’s demise. All empires have birthdays and expiration dates, and America is by no means an exception.

Implications for Tanzania’s Digital Policy

In Tanzania, as in many countries, there’s a growing concern over digital platforms and their influence on national security, data privacy, and local economies. The U.S. government’s scrutiny of TikTok over data privacy issues and potential national security threats mirrors concerns that could arise in Tanzania regarding foreign-owned digital platforms operating within its borders.

These international cases might influence Tanzania’s approach to regulating such platforms, prompting discussions about the need for robust digital policies that protect personal data and ensure that digital platforms do not compromise the country’s security. The situation with TikTok could serve as a case study for Tanzanian policymakers to evaluate their strategies regarding foreign tech companies and the control of digital spaces.

Moreover, the economic implications highlighted by the TikTok situation in the U.S. are particularly relevant for Tanzania. As the country seeks to enhance its digital economy, it becomes crucial to understand the balance between encouraging innovation and protecting economic interests against potential monopolies. The U.S. concerns about TikTok potentially stifling competition could lead to similar reflections in Tanzania about fostering a competitive digital marketplace.

Overall, the TikTok saga offers valuable lessons for Tanzania on managing the complex interplay between technology, politics, and economics in the digital age, ensuring that the country remains open to technological advances and vigilant about its national interests.

My Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, I see TikTok being shielded by American courts with requirements imposed on user data being stored by Oracle cloud infrastructure, as it is being done right now with one fundamental safeguard of federal oversight. Once this ruling is made, China will also allow American social messaging apps to be accessible in their country with similar checklists.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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