For nearly three years, the US government has tried to ban TikTok.
Concerns over the app’s alleged risks to national security have spanned two presidential administrations and forged alliances among Republicans and Democrats. At a time of heightened partisanship, TikTok and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, have become the focus of anti-China policy — a convenient villain most lawmakers are prepared to fight.
Last month, that outrage hit a fever pitch. The Biden administration reportedly threatened to ban TikTok if it didn’t find an American owner. House lawmakers brought the company’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, in for an explosive hearing. At the same time, a group of senators introduced the RESTRICT Act, a bill authorizing the government to ban the app and others like it. This maelstrom of action has proved that the government is more determined to ban TikTok than ever before.
But with a ban seemingly on the horizon, critics fear actions to take TikTok offline could do more to chill free speech on the internet than to protect the safety and security of American user data. Other experts argue the government’s attacks against the app are unjustified, claiming there’s little evidence to prove the app has inflicted more harm than Facebook or Google.
So last month, The Verge went to Washington, DC, to meet with lawmakers, creators, and civil rights experts. We wanted to find out whether the federal government would finally ban TikTok… and how the fight is affecting the internet at large.