Back in August 2020, I expressed my support for a bill proposed by United States Senator Josh Hawley to ban TikTok from federal government devices (the article was nothing special — but it has one of my finest headlines). It should come as no surprise that I was glad to see a new version of Mr. Hawley’s bill pass the Senate without opposition on December 15, 2022 (the House has yet to take action). I have long supported banning TikTok, even while writing about privacy-friendly alternative front-ends. I note for the record that I support Senator Marco Rubio’s proposed legislation to ban TikTok generally, insofar as it would ban TikTok.
I have seen many efforts by opponents of TikTok restrictions to analogize TikTok to privacy-violating American social media monopolies. While it is well-established that I am not at all a fan of big tech social media, these analogies fall flat. Whatever my disagreements may be with Mr. Mark Zuckerberg of “Meta” or Twitter’s previous leadership team, they at worst only indirectly answered to the Chinese Communist Party. A candidate touting his use of TikTok was enough to help decide my vote in a recent election.
However, with respect to banning TikTok from federal government devices, there is one way in which TikTok is analogous to Facebook and Instagram. Are Federal government employees really installing social media apps on their government-issued work phones? Let us exempt those who actually run official accounts — I am talking about all other government employees. Do these people not have personal phones? I genuinely cannot comprehend what would cause a government employee to install personal social media on a government phone.