Omar opposes TikTok ban efforts

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)
Greg Nash
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) addresses reporters during a press conference on Wednesday, January 25, 2023 to discuss Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) rejecting the assignments of Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) to the House Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) came out against efforts to ban TikTok on Tuesday, raising concerns about censorship and calling for broader conversations about propaganda on social media, as more lawmakers express skepticism about the video sharing app.

The congresswoman joins the ranks of a small group of Democratic House members opposed to banning TikTok, as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle back legislation that would give the Biden administration the power to ban the popular video sharing app in the U.S.

“I am opposed to efforts by some Republicans and Democrats to unilaterally ban an entire social media platform — TikTok,” Omar wrote in a statement.

Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) came out against a TikTok ban last week during a press conference with creators from the platform. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined the group over the weekend, posting her first TikTok video to advocate for keeping it.

Omar on Tuesday said that while “there are very legitimate concerns about privacy and the harvesting of private user data on social media platforms,” banning TikTok would not fix the problem.

“Aside from raising legitimate first amendment concerns, this is bad policy,” she wrote. “We should create actual standards and regulations around data harvesting and privacy violations across social media companies—like many countries around the world have already done—not ban particular platforms we don’t like.”

In response to concerns raised about TikTok being used to circulate propaganda and hate speech, Omar — who said she is “sympathetic to these concerns” being that she is “a frequent target of disinformation campaigns myself” — said the issue does not rest solely with TikTok.

“Twitter, Instagram, and famously, Facebook have all been used by foreign adversaries for disinformation campaigns targeting US citizens,” she wrote. “Our regulations should address these broad issues instead of singling out one platform.”

And on the topic of China, the congresswoman recognized “legitimate concerns about the Chinese government,” but argued that, “Banning one social media company based in China will not solve those problems.”

“The American model rests on our protection of those freedoms — the ability to speak publicly against the government, or if you choose, to share a 10 second video cooking your favorite meal. That is the beauty of our democracy and our constitution,” she wrote. “That is what sets us apart from authoritarian regimes like China. And that is the example we should set for the world.”

Despite Omar’s joining the anti-TikTok ban ranks, the coalition is a minority on Capitol Hill, where several lawmakers have expressed concerns with the app, which is owned by China-based company ByteDance. During a hearing with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew last week, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voiced worries about national security threats, data privacy, the spread of misinformation and safety for minors who use the app.

“We do not trust TikTok will ever embrace American values, values for freedom, human rights, and innovation,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the chair of the committee, said during last week’s hearing. “TikTok has repeatedly chosen the path for more control, more surveillance, and more manipulation.”

“Your platform should be banned,” she added.

Following the hearing, TikTok’s chief operating officer said the hearing “felt rooted in xenophobia.”

Lawmakers have introduced legislation that would either ban TikTok in the U.S. or give the Biden administration the power to ban the app.

A proposal from Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) would allow the president to ban TikTok. Another bill — sponsored by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) and backed by the White House — would authorize the Commerce Department to review, prevent and mitigate risks posed by technology with connections to foreign adversaries, including China.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Cathy McMorris Rodgers Ilhan Omar Joe Biden

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