The AtlanticThe Atlantic

America is getting TikTok all wrong

By Tim Hwang and Tianyu Fang

18 May 2023 · 6 min read

Editor's Note

TikTok is often described as antithetical to an “American” approach to innovation. But this narrative is fundamentally flawed, argues The Atlantic: Chinese companies are a mirror of American tech.

For three years now—spanning both the Trump and Biden administrations—Washington has been on a quest to ban TikTok. Earlier this year, the White House announced a ban on the social-media platform on federal-agency devices. And now, a bill that is gaining steam in Congress and has support from the president, the RESTRICT Act, would outlaw communications technologies—including software on American smartphones—from certain “foreign adversaries.” There has been little doubt that the bill was written with TikTok in mind. State legislators are also getting in on the act; yesterday, Montana became the first to ban the app.

Fears about the security risk posed by TikTok’s closeness with the Chinese government are well warranted, including the concern that Beijing may use the app to gather Americans’ personal information—employees have, after all, used the app to spy on journalists. But throughout this entire saga, many TikTok critics have framed the platform as antithetical to an “American” approach to innovation and the internet more generally. In March, when TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before Congress, the Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington declared “We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values.” Citing TikTok, a competitor that is lapping Meta, Mark Zuckerberg has similarly worried that “China is building its own internet focused on very different values, and is now exporting their vision of the internet to other countries.”  

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