The Washington Post
Is it bad politics to ban Tiktok in the U.S.? Some officials think so.
U.S. policymakers for years have called for restricting or banning the popular video-sharing app Tiktok, citing alleged national security risks. But in recent weeks a number of politicians have touched on an often unspoken consideration: These moves may not play well with voters.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo offered a candid assessment of how banning Tiktok might land with constituents in a Bloomberg News interview. “The politician in me thinks you’re gonna literally lose every voter under 35, forever,” she said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-fla.), who has been leading calls to ban the app, took umbrage at the remarks on Wednesday, saying security concerns are all that should matter.
“If Tiktok is bad for America … should the fact that it is popular among people under the age of 35 be the reason we don’t take strong action against it?” Rubio asked during a Senate hearing on worldwide threats with intelligence leaders.
“Not from my perspective,” said FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who warned that Tiktok being owned by Chinese tech giant Bytedance “screams out with national security concerns.”
Raimondo did not appear to suggest that political baggage should be a driving factor in discussions about Tiktok, and she said other concerns — such as the free speech rights of users — should be weighed in. “However much I hate Tiktok — and I do, because I see the addiction in the bad s--- that it serves kids — you know, this is America,” she said.
But the Commerce chief isn’t the first U.S. official to consider the political implications of a potential ban — so have those pushing for tighter restrictions.
In 2020, President Donald
Trump initially threatened to ban Tiktok from operating in the United States, but ultimately sought instead to force Bytedance to spin off the app to a U.S. buyer. (The orders ran into legal roadblocks in the courts and were later rescinded by President Biden.)
As my colleagues Drew Harwell and Elizabeth Dwoskin reported in October, political considerations factored into that call, which came just weeks before the presidential election.
“Trump ultimately decided against a Tiktok ban before the 2020 election after being shown internal polls suggesting the move would hurt his standing with young people and suburban moms,” they wrote citing a former Trump aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the talks.
Tiktok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement earlier this week that, “A U.S. ban on Tiktok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide.”
Together, the data points offer a rare glimpse into how public opinion could be factoring into talks about how to rein in the app, which is wildly popular with younger users.
Surveys have offered mixed results on the extent to which voters support a Tiktok ban.
A July 2020 poll by Morning Consult found that the public was largely split on a ban, with 29 percent supporting it, 33 percent opposing it and 38 percent undecided. But an August 2020 survey by Harris Poll found that a majority of Americans backed a potential ban, and a December Rasmussen Reports poll found most voters support federal legislation to ban Tiktok.
Some of the findings, however, appear to track closely with Raimondo’s remarks: The July 2020 Morning Consult poll found that resistance to a Tiktok ban was much stronger among younger users, with 59 percent of Gen Z and 47 percent of millennial respondents opposing it.
The polls, which focus on adults, also do not factor in most teens, a vast majority of which use the app according to an August 2022 survey by the Pew Research Center.
The results could pose a test for political messaging strategies focused on attacking Tiktok’s links to China, which have become particularly pervasive among Republican officials.