On Saturday, President Donald Trump told reporters that he might take steps to ban the social media video app TikTok, and the Internet is floundering to understand why. According to Los Angeles Times reporter David Cloud, Trump seemed to imply that national security concerns were behind the decision. Jokingly or otherwise, many users inferred more personal reasons for the ban.
TikTok has been steadily growing in popularity over the last few years, seen by many as a replacement for the short video app Vine. It allows users to add visual effects and overlay sound on their clips, as well as basic video editing tools. Popular among teenagers, the app has hosted some widely-known creators who frequently speak out against Trump, which some believe is the reason for the proposed "ban." However, there are some real security concerns behind the international app as well.
Pool report via main print pooler David Cloud/LAT pic.twitter.com/RDV8LjnLLQ— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) August 1, 2020
TikTok is one of the few social media apps widely used in the U.S. but owned by a company based in another country — China. The president has condemned China over the years, even launching a controversial trade war against them, and using racist rhetoric to blame the country as a whole for the coronavirus pandemic.
The Chinese company, ByteDance owns TikTok. Due to common business practices within China, this has led to some concern that the Chinese government could obtain information on TikTok users. TikTok itself has repeatedly denied this speculation, but the fears have persisted.
Of course, many critics doubt that this is the real reason for Trump's anger at the platform. Many point out the dubious information-gathering practices of American social media companies, which have often gone unchecked. Moreover, they point to the ways many TikTok users have stood against the president, from parodies of his speeches to the organized action against his campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Putting it all together, many critics believe that Trump's proposed TikTok ban is more of a personal matter than a national security issue. Here are some of the things people are guessing led Trump to lash out at TikTok.
How to tick tack pic.twitter.com/1Mn8nk363f— Sarah Cooper (@sarahcpr) July 31, 2020
First and foremost, many users guessed that comedian Sarah Cooper had led the president to threaten TikTok. Cooper has gained viral fame for lip-syncing the president's most awkward remarks, adding a flare of absurdity in some instances. Many people guessed that the president wanted to shut down the app to silence Cooper.prevnext
It warms me heart & soul, you young people embracing your power. Your generation gives me hope. Thank you.— Penny Kirk (@pennykirk583) August 1, 2020
Now go get him!
Another individual culprit being considered is Claudia Conway, the teenage daughter of Trump administration adviser Kellyanne Conway. Claudia has become outspoken against Trump on all of her social media outlets, and her parents' attempts to silence her have only gained her more notoriety.prevnext
It is really weird that none of the coverage of Trump's desire to ban TikTok mentions that TikTok was credited with ruining his Tulsa rally and that he is still really mad about that. https://t.co/xQssN6AlKk— Laurie Voss (@seldo) August 1, 2020
Trump is more concerned about teens on TikTok ruining his Tulsa rally than he is about Putin putting bounties on US soldier’s heads.— Hamish Mitchell (@H_MitchellPhoto) August 1, 2020
Others guessed that it was the collective action of TikTok users, not one individual that drew Trump's ire. Back in June, a huge swath of TikTok users banded together to request tickets to Trump's campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The request was free, but the users never intended to pick up the tickets, leading to a massive over-estimation in the amount of seating and other preparations.
It was never made explicitly clear how much this online prank impacted the rally, according to a report by The New York Times, but it gained widespread coverage either way. Some are speculating that this was the beginning of the president's disdain for Tik Tok.prevnext
Suburban moms on TikTok, we ride at dawn. pic.twitter.com/BR3Zhw3kEK— The Lincoln Project (@ProjectLincoln) August 1, 2020
Whatever Trump's intentions, many say he is underestimating the outrage he will cause by trying to control Americans' social media access. They point to other groups and demographics adopting TikTok recently — particularly "suburban moms."prevnext
If Bill Gates is buying TikTok from China, he should see if he can also buy back the Oval Office from Russia.— Liddle’ Savage (@littledeekay) August 2, 2020
It has also been noted that Microsoft founder Bill Gates has expressed interest in acquiring TikTok for his own company, or that ByteDance is seeking to sell its American operations to protect them from Trump's intervention. Some speculate that Trump wants to ban the app before that can happen out of spite for Gates and other business owners with more personal wealth than him.prevnext
And imagine if we had a President who didn’t distract from real issues by threatening to ban TikTok. 🙄— BC (@BC_mec) August 1, 2020
Its literally been Tr*mps tactic since election to say some crazy ass shit to distract the american people and the media while his admin passes nasty regulation/legislation while no one watches/notices. Its a pattern everyone falls for EVERYTIME. Please shut tf up about tiktok.— Aicosu (@Aicosplays) August 1, 2020
As always, there were those joining in the discussion to say that Trump was using this TikTok story to distract attention from other issues — including those that do more political harm to him. Theories for what he wanted to draw attention away from ranged from rising COVID-19 deaths to his alleged failure to act when Russia placed bounties on American soldiers, and beyond.prevnext
TikTok has millions of people dancing and lip-syncing.August 2, 2020
Many people spent time dissecting the real security concerns that do exist when it comes to TikTok, and separating them from the dubious rumors. Still, even in this sphere critics argued that the president should not act unilaterally or express his power in this way.prevnext
Mnuchin doesn't offer a lot of details here about what Trump means when he says he's going to "ban" TikTok. https://t.co/ZT6ld0rHby— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) August 2, 2020
Finally, members of the Trump administration tried to clarify the president's comments about TikTok, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin hinting that the app might be subject to changes for U.S. users rather than being banned altogether. Many thought this was still overstepping if it set a precedent that the U.S. government has some measure of control over social media content within its borders. So far, it is not clear what Trump will try to do about TikTok, and whether or not checks and balances to his executive power will get in the way.prev