Senator Rand Paul has come out in opposition to a bid to ban TikTok, criticizing both Republicans and Democrats for their efforts to curtail freedom of speech. Senator Josh Hawley attempted to push through a bill to ban TikTok on US devices but was objected to by Paul, who argued that it would set a dangerous precedent for the government to suddenly intervene in the way that people choose to communicate. Hawley, for his part, argued that the US owes its citizens protection from foreign governments who would use that speech to spy on Americans. Paul’s objections failed but only represented a small part of a larger push in Congress to ban the app, with bills already proposed by senators on both sides of the aisle.
Senator Paul went on to explain in an op-ed in USA Today that losing TikTok would be the death knell of the Republican party. He claimed that the party would be seen as out of touch with young people who make up TikTok’s user base, at a time when young voters are often the difference-makers in elections. Senator Paul’s freedom of speech concerns are echoed by a group of House Democrats who oppose the ban and have organized press conferences with TikTok creators. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also voiced deep concern over the app and the possibility of foreign governments spying on American citizens. The Committee’s hearing coincided with the press conference for opponents of the ban.
Overall, TikTok finds itself at the center of a political struggle over freedom of speech and national security. While the app has been popular with younger users, and many feel that it would be an overreach for the government to ban it, concerns have been raised about data becoming available to foreign governments who might use it to spy on US citizens. These concerns are being debated at the highest levels of government, with some seeing it as a test case for how the US should approach the wider issue of foreign influence on American communications.