TikTok‘s ties to the Chinese Communist Party have earned it a reputation as a threat to U.S. national security. In response to that talk, Republican governors across the country have issued executive orders that bar state employees from using the ByteDance-owned app on their government-owned devices.
Gubernatorial TikTok bans go back to 2020, when Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts barred the app amidst its feud with President Trump. A June 2022 report by BuzzFeed News alleged that Chinese officials had accessed U.S. user data, reigniting concerns about TikTok’s security. TikTok has become a popular political cause in the U.S. Capitol, and that trend has spread to Republican-controlled statehouses. South Dakota’s Kristi Noem (pictured above) sparked a wave of executive orders after she announced a TikTok ban on state devices.
At least four other Republican governors — in Texas, Maryland, South Carolina, and Oklahoma — have enacted restrictions on public TikTok use. So far, no Democratic leaders have joined their GOP counterparts, though Maryland Governor Larry Hogan is a moderate in a blue state. In Wisconsin, right-wing officials are encouraging Governor Tony Evers to act swiftly to curtail TikTok’s presence.
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“There may be no greater threat to our personal safety and our national security than the cyber vulnerabilities that support our daily lives,” Governor Hogan said in a statement. “As the cyber capital of America, Maryland has taken bold and decisive actions to prepare for and address cybersecurity threats. To further protect our systems, we are issuing this emergency directive against foreign actors and organizations that seek to weaken and divide us.”
Despite the BuzzFeed reports, TikTok has repeatedly denied that Chinese parties are able to access the data of U.S. users. Lawmakers, however, have not been convinced. TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas added fuel to the fire by delivering a combative testimony during a tech summit on Capitol Hill.
No matter how TikTok feels about the allegations against it, the app is working to establish stronger safeguards for its U.S. user data. This effort, dubbed Project Texas, has led to a collaboration with the Biden Administration. Though TikTok is hiring the U.S.-based engineers it will need to make Project Texas a reality, the latest attacks from Republicans will hamper its progress.
As has been the case throughout 2022, a clash over a social media platform is turning into a proxy battleground between Democrats and Republicans. If any left-wing governors issue TikTok bans, it will be a sign that the app has drawn the scorn of the entire Washington establishment.