American flag saying, "Security breach."

Americans Split on TikTok. Is It a National Security Threat?

It’s widely known that TikTok is owned by a Chinese company. And that means that it may be controlled by the Chinese government. But does that mean that it’s a threat to national security?

The Big Picture

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Pew Research Center performed a survey to get a feel for Americans’ perceptions of TikTok. The result? Fifty-nine percent stated that they view TikTok as a “major” or “minor” threat to national security in the U.S. That means about one in every six Americans are concerned about the social media app.

Party Divide

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, given former president Trump’s initiation of a TikTok ban, more Republicans responded with concerns about TikTok than Democrats.

About 70% of Republicans and independents with Republican leanings said they believe TikTok is a national security threat. In contrast, only 53% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning respondents felt the same.

Run and Hide

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Of all the political ideologies surveyed, conservative Republicans had a notably stronger reaction than others to TikTok’s potential threat. Fifty percent of conservative Republicans report viewing TikTok as a “major” threat. All other Republican subcategories and all Democrats reported significantly lower numbers under the “major” threat category.

Age Matters

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People in the 65+ age group view TikTok as a greater threat to national security than any other age bracket, according to Pew Research Center’s findings. Whereas 46% of people aged 65+ see the social media app as a “major” threat, only 13% of people in the 18 to 29 age group reported feeling the same.

Why Worry?

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Of the Americans Pew surveyed, only 17% said that TikTok isn’t a threat to national security. Another 23% responded that they were unsure.

Looking the Other Way

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TikTok-using Americans are less concerned about the social media app’s potential threat to national security than those who don’t use the platform; about six-in-ten TikTok users don’t consider the app a national security risk.

Taking Action

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The jury is still out on whether TikTok will lead to the demise of U.S. security. But one thing is certain: The U.S. government isn’t willing to risk its employees being guinea pigs.

In December 2022, President Joe Biden signed a 4,126-page spending bill into law, which included a ban on TikTok’s app on devices owned by the government. The exception? Certain people working for national security, law enforcement, and security research can have the app on their government devices.

In Solidarity

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The U.S. wasn’t the only country to mandate a government device TikTok ban. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom all took the same action, citing security concerns.

Montana’s Move

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In May 2023, Montana’s governor signed a bill banning the TikTok app. Should the federal court approve the bill, it’ll go into effect on January 1, 2024. It appears the ban will be more geared towards giving TikTok app providers a fine for violations, like the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, rather than reprimanding Montana residents.

The Problem With TikTok

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Americans and government officials who believe TikTok is a threat to national security argue it’s because of Chinese laws that permit the government to access a company’s customer records. Although there’s no indication that the Chinese government has gotten its hands on American TikTok user data, by law, the possibility exists.

Opening Up

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Americans turned to the internet to share their points of view on TikTok’s potential as a national security threat. The content that follows is some of their reactions.

All or Nothing

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One commenter says that they wish there were legislation for data privacy across all social media platforms and the internet as a whole.

An Education Problem

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Another user bets that most Americans can’t give a legitimate reason for taking the stance they did. They argue that Congress and most citizens don’t understand how technology and data privacy work.

Stunting Social Development

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A concerned citizen believes that TikTok is a greater threat to a child’s social development than it is to national security.

Finger Pointing

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One user tongue-in-cheek says that TikTok has no right to steal personal data from U.S. citizens; that would put American social media companies out of work.

What’ll Be Will Be

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A commenter accuses Americans of having too much of a passive approach to TikTok and other data privacy. They say that many people have an “I’ve got nothing to hide” attitude, which, in their opinion, fuels data theft.

No Biggie

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An American rhetorically asks what China will do with their information. According to them, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are the people Americans should be scared of.

Free Data No More

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Another user confirms the sentiment above, humorously saying that if China wants their personal information, they should have to purchase it from Facebook and Google “like everyone else.”

Similar Concerns Regarding Threads

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The recently launched social media network called Threads is also causing discomfort for some users and experts. This is because it can collect personal information, such as location, browsing history, health, and financial data, among others.

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