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Banning TikTok? Here’s everything you need to know

TikTok creator Jennifer Gay was able to quit her full-time job at Wynn Resorts and support her family after she started her account, @vegasstarfish, in which she reviews Las Vegas restaurants and casinos and provides general tourism information for Sin City, racking up 1.1 million followers.

If the popular social media app is banned, Gay will have to make some changes.

She said while it would be “terrible,” there are other apps that could take its place. The app provides a way for people to get firsthand information from each other, and that does not have to happen just on TikTok, Gay said.

“It won’t be the end of the world,” Gay said. “It’s important that we don’t let a ban on TikTok stifle the way that people get information.”

So, what is happening with a possible ban of TikTok, both in Nevada and in the country? What exactly are lawmakers proposing? Here is everything you need to know about possible bans on TikTok.

Concerns and attempts to block

U.S. officials have raised concerns over national security risks that TikTok poses since its parent company, ByteDance, is based in China. Some officials have warned that the Chinese government could force the company to share the data that it collects on its users.

ByteDance said in December that an internal investigation found a few of its employees wrongfully obtained data of two U.S. reporters through their TikTok accounts and a few other users connected to those journalists.

In December, both the House and Senate banned TikTok from devices issued by the federal government, and some other entities have done the same, including the U.S. military and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

There is no clear consensus from federal lawmakers on what the next steps are in terms of regulating or banning the app, which is used by about 130 million Americans per month, TikTok CEO Shou Chew said during the House hearing on March 23.

The app denies sharing U.S. user data with the Chinese government, and TikTok officials say that U.S. data is stored in the U.S., with backup storage in Singapore, according to a 2022 statement from TikTok.

“American data will be stored on American soil by an American company, overseen by American personnel,” Chew told TikTok users last week, adding that TikTok will give access to third-party, independent monitors to hold TikTok accountable.

It is also unclear how a ban of the app would work from a technical perspective, as the internet is decentralized and does not have a “single choke point,” making the ban difficult to enforce, said Aram Sinnreich, a communications professor at American University, in the newspaper The Hill.

On Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., blocked an attempt to fast-track a TikTok ban that was pushed by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who had argued that the First Amendment does not give the right to spy.

Paul expressed concerns about free speech and the unequal treatment of social media companies.

“Every accusation of data gathering that’s been attributed to TikTok could also be attributed to domestic big tech companies,” Paul said on the Senate floor.

TikTok, which features many critical videos of Chinese leaders, is already banned in China, Paul said, and he argued the U.S. would “emulate” communist China if it did the same.

While that latest attempt to ban the app failed, members of Congress are still trying to figure out what kind of action — if any — should be taken against TikTok, or if there should be changes to how the social media industry is regulated.

What about Nevada?

Nevada has joined other states like South Carolina, Texas, Ohio and Maryland in banning TikTok on government-issued devices.

On March 6, a memorandum was sent from the Department of Administration to all state agencies about a blacklist of apps and websites that are prohibited on state-owned devices, networks and platforms that pose a “significant security risk to the State of Nevada’s infrastructure and data.”

Blacklist memo by Jessica Hill on Scribd

TikTok is on the list, as well as Grammarly and China-related products. Many of the products were already banned at the federal level, such as Alibab products, China Mobile International USA Inc. and Huawei Technologies.

“The state of Nevada has zero-tolerance for those who present a known security risk,” said Elizabeth Ray, spokesperson for Gov. Joe Lombardo.

What’s next for TikTok?

President Joe Biden could try to ban the app through an executive order, which is what former President Donald Trump had attempted to do but was blocked by federal judges.

With Democrats as the majority of the Senate, Republican-led efforts to ban the app would likely fail. A bill led by Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., could have a better chance of passing.

The Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act, or “RESTRICT Act” would do more than just ban TikTok. The legislation would give the secretary of commerce the ability to regulate or ban social media and telecommunications products linked to foreign adversaries.

Currently, the list of foreign adversaries named in the bill are China, Hong Kong, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela, but that list can change, with new countries added, according to the legislation.

The regulations or bans would target information technology and services that are deemed to have “catastrophic” effects on the security of the U.S., undermine democratic processes or steer policy decisions in favor of a foreign adversary’s objectives that are to the detriment of the U.S., according to the bill’s language.

Sen. Paul on Wednesday, in addition to speaking against Hawley’s targeted ban on TikTok, spoke against the RESTRICT Act, arguing that it would give too much power to the president.

“Do you want Joe Biden to be your censor? Do you want to give unlimited power to any president regardless of party to decide who is our adversary?” Paul said.

What does Nevada’s delegation say?

Most of Nevada’s representatives did not explicitly answer the Review-Journal’s question about where they stand on banning TikTok, with the exception of Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, who said he would vote yes to ban the app.

Nevada’s other representatives say bipartisan action must be taken to protect Americans’ data from China’s government.

Chew’s testimony before the Energy and Commerce hearing “did not go well for him or his company” and confirmed that TikTok is used by the Chinese government to spy on Americans and steal data, Amodei told the Review-Journal in a statement.

“If the clear ties between TikTok’s parent company ByteDance and the Chinese government wasn’t proof enough that this app is being used as a surveillance tool, then what does it tell you that China resolutely opposes the sale of TikTok?” Amodei said.

Sen. Jacky Rosen and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said they are concerned about TikTok’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party and that bipartisan action is needed to stop the Chinese government from collecting private data from American citizens.

Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford said Congress needs to enact real reform on all social media companies.

“I recognize the impact apps like TikTok and Instagram have had on the many individuals, including those in my district, who have been able to create new careers or grow their businesses with every post,” Horsford said in a statement to the Review-Journal. “We must find a solution that continues to provide Americans those opportunities while protecting our national security and their private information.”

Democratic Rep. Susie Lee said in a statement to the Review-Journal that as a mother she is concerned about how TikTok and social media companies in general negatively impact kids and teenagers. As a member of Congress, she said she is also concerned about the potential threat to national security.

“It’s our duty to investigate and hold these companies accountable,” Lee said. “After last week’s hearing, I do not believe that TikTok is doing enough to secure and protect our private information. I’m committed to continuing to thoroughly review the information and intelligence on this matter, so that Congress can determine the appropriate course of action.”

Rep. Dina Titus said that Chew’s testimony did show legitimate national security concerns with the app. She said Congress needs to take a “hard look” at the Chinese government’s influence over TikTok’s operations, and both parties should work together to put national security first.

Meanwhile, Nevada TikTok creators like Gay await action from Congress to determine what their careers will look like. Gay understands what the risks were with a career on social media. The platforms are very much in their “Wild West” phase, Gay said, and the government is still figuring out how to regulate them.

“It will be significant if they ban it, but I’ll figure it out,” Gay said. “These are the growing pains of social media.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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