Rand Paul Is Wrong: Banning TikTok Will Not Cause GOP to ‘Continuously Lose Elections For a Generation’
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) expressed his strong opposition to a ban on TikTok during a floor speech on Wednesday, accusing proponents of emulating “Chinese speech bans” and potentially violating the First Amendment.
In addition to his principled arguments against a ban, Paul submitted that support for such a measure would have undesirable political ramifications for his party:
If Republicans want to continuously lose elections for a generation, they should pass this bill to ban TikTok, a social media app used by 150 million people, primarily young Americans. This brilliant strategy comes while polls indicate that 71% of young women and men — 51% of young men — voted for a Democratic candidate for Congress. Admittedly, many Democrats have joined Republicans for calling for this ban. But like most issues, the blame will stick to the Republicans more.
But if Congress passes and President Joe Biden signs the ban into law, Republicans would be blessed to have the public attribute the prohibition to their efforts.
Although Senator Paul professes to be knowledgeable about the polling around this issue, he appears to have ignored the answer to the most important question that could be asked about it.
An NPR/PBS/Marist College survey conducted last week shows that 57% of Americans would support — and only 36% would oppose — a federal ban on the Chinese-owned social media platform.
Those in favor of the idea include a majority Democrats (by a 15% margin), Republicans (by a 34% margin), and Independents (by a 21% margin).
What’s more is that those margins would seem to be poised to grow after a sustained, bipartisan campaign to market and explain a ban. The same poll found that 73% of Americans considered the social media platform either a major (35%) or minor (38%) threat to U.S. national security.
And while Senator Paul frets that younger Americans, in particular, would be incensed, 48% of even Millennials and Generation Z would support a ban, although a slim majority (51%) said they would oppose it. Every other generation supported giving TikTok the boot by margins of 29% and above.
Of course there are good reasons to debate whether a ban is prudent, and if so, how one should be enforced.
On Wednesday night, Fox News host Jesse Watters poked holes in one of the two major bills being considered to carry out a ban, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Thune’s (R-SD) RESTRICT Act, arguing that it would enable government intrusion into Americans’ private lives and proving that at least one cosponsor hadn’t read the bill, much less considered the consequences of its structure.
Moreover, Paul has a point about the generalized perils of restrictions on speech. But his characterization of deporting”TikTok as such a restriction misses the point. The primary reason for not continuing to allow it to operate in the United States is not because of the content of the speech occurring on the platform, but because of the Chinese Communist Party’s de facto ownership of users’ data.
Under Chinese law, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance must provide data collected about users’ on-demand. This could be used for various nefarious purposes, including targeted propaganda efforts and even blackmail. The wide use of the platform cited by Paul as a reason to continue to allow TikTok to operate, then, is further evidence of the legitimate national security concerns associated with it.
There’s room for reasonable disagreement on this subject, but Paul’s electoral argument is refuted by the data; polling shows that Americans of all inclinations and almost all ages favor a ban. And though a modest majority of younger Americans would prefer the opposite, it’s Congress’ job to look out for their best interests, not to pander to a simpleminded caricature of them.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.