Why Trump Can’t Ban TikTok Through “Presidential Authority”
According to one (of many lawyers) who crowded TikTok to explain
Late Friday night a pop-up rudely interrupted my Twitter scrolling: “President Trump says he plans to ban TikTok from the US,” the headline read. I thought, “oh my God. Here we go again. More fear-mongering. More distraction. What is he dismantling under the table this time, while we’re all focused on fiercely protecting our first amendment rights?”
Admittedly, I’m a TikTok aficionado. Yeah, I know I’m in my mid-40s, and yes, I know TikTok was created specifically for teens and Gen Z. But what the developers of TikTok maybe didn’t count on was the number of Gen Xers like myself who’d bond instantly with the quirky app, especially during a global pandemic on lockdown.
I joined the app back in 2018 but gave it up for a while, staying loyal to my old friends Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Then COVID-19 happened, and rediscovering TikTok on one random day of home confinement proved pivotal in the bigger meaning of life; it was like the heavens opened up and the entirety of Gen X mysteriously arrived from near and far, at the same time, and found ourselves gathered in awe around this new tech tool. We were here, visible, drawn together in some weird, mysterious yet magical familiarity, like the pull of Devil’s Tower in Speilberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Actually, scores of adults like me have been fleeing en masse from older social media for quite some time. A few more rapidly than others, but nonetheless, mass exodus from the apparent takeover of conservative right wing Boomers on Facebook. Those who continue insisting COVID-19 is a “Democrat hoax” in spite of scientific evidence proving otherwise.
Others of us grew tired of fake shiny veneers carefully crafted, and decided to also ditch the perfectly staged, edited, and unrealistic snapshots of Instagram. Which seemed awfully full of old high school acquaintances and their exotic vacations that the rest of us could never afford. Instead, we happily embraced the short-form video social media app where, for content, truth matters and realness is key.
TikTok features real people. All kinds. All shapes, sizes, and races. Funny, aspiring comedians, and serious beatnik-like poets. Talented and not talented. Women without makeup or filters — zits and all. All sexual orientations, religions, cultures, gender identities and expressions. There’s a place for everyone. And TikTok is unique in how they level the playing field such that anybody can reasonably expect to “go viral” if their content is good enough — not hard to do if you find your niche.
And yes, there’s a “MAGA” sect, but TikTok’s AI is so insanely good that after using the app for not even an hour, it has your preferences figured to a T and filters out all the stuff you wouldn’t want to see. Sure, I guess you could say it’s a bubble. But it’s also not, because you’re connecting with a range of diverse people all over the world — not just within the confines of your own racially or economically same neighborhood, state, or country. And once you have a decent following, it isn’t hard for clever, creative minds to find ways to monetize their presence on TikTok.
Sure, I know it all sounds a little scary — especially the AI component. But honestly, I’m far more concerned with Facebook’s security, especially considering the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the literal fake ads they allowed leading up to the 2016 election, and the creation (or hijacking) of seemingly legit groups (like the largest Black Lives Matter group on Facebook, which was actually fake). Not to mention, the way Russians created a lot of this fake material in order to further divide us, and we have a president who welcomed — indeed, invited — that interference in our lives, and our elections. (If that’s not treason, I don’t know what is.)
And, there’s the fact that Facebook is still actively harvesting and selling our data for app development and political ad targeting. Meaning, they’re allowing our data to be used against us, experimentally, and in ways that we don’t fully understand. They effectively allowed what I call the “brainwashing” of thousands of Americans in 2016 through the use of sheer propaganda.
That’s far more scary to me.
So I’ll stay away from those outlets for the time being and continue enjoying people on TikTok live-streaming, where I get a front row seat to a world of diversity, inclusiveness, and facts without filter. Like, seeing the peaceful protests in real time, live streamed in Portland. I see the Portland Moms — the “Wall of Moms,” strong women speaking truth to power or standing their ground — often sporting surface wounds of purple, marbling into yellow, areas where rogue police have beaten them. For the “crime” of peaceful protest. The Portland Moms wear them like badges of honor. This is America now.
And I see this while also recognizing, and never ever forgetting, that “Black mothers have long taken it upon themselves to organize.” White women are only just now getting in the arena in some way, shape, or form… and it’s about time.
And, of course, I’ll stay on TikTok for an up-close view of those who feature their funny and adorable pets (one of my favorites: a dog being called for “school,” and the owner capturing him on video, running full-tilt down the stairs and out the front door, so excited to jump in and greet his friends as the doors swung open on his doggy day care bus).
These things are far better for my mental health, anyway.
As I scrolled on through Twitter, even though I remained skeptical of Trump’s late-night distraction threat, I kept seeing tweets from journalists, White House correspondents and press pool members who were giving it legitimacy, backing it up with proof that he said it (and intended to mean it). Maggie Haberman of the NYT tweeted around 10:30 p.m.:
“ABOARD AF1 — POTUS says he plans to terminate the social media platform TikTok in the US using presidential authority… POTUS made clear he is against proposed spinoff of TikTok with a resale to Microsoft or another company.” Then she linked to a pool report via main print pooler David Cloud/LAT. Trump had “put it on record,” he said.
Trump’s words as they appeared in the pool report were: “As far as TikTok is concerned we’re banning them from the United States.” The report continued, “Trump said he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order to ban TikTok in the United States.”
Then I felt a sense of dread. Not just because I happen to love (okay maybe more like, “happen to be a little addicted to”) TikTok, but because this is scary shit, authoritarian tactics by the book. Dismantling the free press was one of Hitler’s first ploys, and it worked. To be fair, with an attorney general like Bill Barr, who seems hellbent on allowing Trump to break or obscure every known law on record, anything seems possible these days.
Further, Trump said he was banning the social media platform from operating in the United States as early as Saturday, August 1, 2020. And that’s when everyone (myself included) flocked to TikTok to say “goodbye” to each other, as ridiculous as that sounds. The perception going was that TikTok would somehow “disappear” from our smartphones by daybreak, and our accounts — and all our creative content — would have vaporized into oblivion. (Like I said, anything seems plausible when your country is free-falling ever closer towards autocracy.)
But when I awoke this morning (and throughout the day all day — I kept checking), my account was safe and sound, fully functioning, no lost content. One of the first things I saw this morning was an official statement message issued to the entire community from TikTok’s U.S. General Manager, Vanessa Pappas. She stated her appreciation to the “millions of Americans who use TikTok every day bringing their creativity and joy into our daily lives. We’ve heard your outpouring of support, and we want to say thank you, and we’re not planning on going anywhere.”
Music to our ears.
That’s when I also discovered the presence of many lawyers speaking out on TikTok (several of whom I searched up and vetted online, to the best of my abilities, to at least try and make sure they were who they said they were). There was one after another, some who’d just joined TikTok specifically to speak out against the Trump folks on this matter. They all cited various legal rationale as to why the POTUS couldn’t legally execute this “ban.” But one user, @thekoreanvegan, stood out the most. She spelled it out in a very easy-to-understand way, and gave one of the best responses across multiple videos throughout the day today.
In the first of her informational TikToks on this proposed ban, she says:
“First, Donald Trump has questionable constitutional authority to enact such an order because it would essentially curb the first amendment rights of not just the company that owns TikTok, but also the users who express themselves on TikTok. This is especially the case because Microsoft has essentially offered to purchase TikTok, thus dispelling any of these national security pretexts that Donald Trump is trying to use.
Second, Apple, Microsoft, every big major tech company in the world is going to cry bloody murder at such an order because they don’t want this kind of precedent on the books.
Third, there’s no way to enforce such an order because there’s no central network here in the United States from which the U.S. government could block IPs from accessing TikTok. This is exactly what happened in India where they did try to institute a national ban but they couldn’t actually prevent users who already had TikTok on their phones from using it.” (Link to video here).
Stories and articles have surfaced around the internet today detailing more of the same. Some have proposed theories on how Trump might successfully try, but they also named the many pitfalls he’d likely run into.
It’s also worth noting that I’m writing this piece at all; that the President of the United States is (unsurprisingly) more preoccupied with silencing teenage social media apps because they successfully troll him, than he is with, oh, I don’t know… our national security? Acts of treason? Conspiring in private, off-the-record, with Putin and Kim Jong-un?
Oh, and when I say “teenage social media apps” that “troll” Trump, I don’t mean to downplay their importance or suggest that’s all they do. TikTok has singlehandedly motivated an entire generation of young folks to take interest in the political well-being of their nation.
It has inspired users — from Gen Z to, yes, even Boomers (most of the cool kids are all on TikTok now) — to play some kind of active role in making this nation a better place, whether that’s through showing random acts of kindness, getting facts out in real time, educating others using one’s personal expertise in any given field, or creating awareness of systemic racism and other injustices that all minorities in America have faced for far too long.
And, I’d be remiss to not give a shout out to those TikTokers who give us entertainment breaks and that much needed, well-timed laugh. Lest anyone has forgotten, we’re in a global pandemic that’s not going away, and in fact, is getting worse. Our economy is tanking. We might not recover. We might not ever return to life as we knew it. It’s a gig economy right now. So for those who are scrappy and have figured out how to gain a following, brand themselves, and monetize on TikTok? That’s nothing to look down on. We might all benefit one day from learning how to do that... sooner rather than later. And definitely before Trump bans it.