Opinion: I’m Suing the Biden Administration to Save Gen Z’s Free Speech

June 12, 2024

(Newsweek)—TikTok is not just cat videos, cringe-worthy dancing, and bad lip-syncing. Millions of Gen Z Americans like myself use TikTok to express ourselves, share news, and debate our ideas. Yet the federal government is trying to take this unique communication platform away from us.

In April, President Joe Biden signed into law a bipartisan bill enacting a de facto ban on TikTok. As a TikTok content creator whose content promoting individual liberty and free markets reaches a unique audience of millions on the platform, this unconstitutional law will strip me of my voice. That’s why I’m teaming up with the Liberty Justice Center to file a lawsuit challenging this legislation as an unconstitutional violation of my First Amendment rights.

Some defenders of this legislation insist that it does not actually ban TikTok, but simply forces the sale of the app. But, in effect, the legislation is an outright ban because ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, is likely legally prohibited from selling the TikTok algorithm by China’s export control laws. And TikTok without its algorithm is not really TikTok at all.

Many of the legislation’s supporters in Congress, like Reps. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), and Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), have come right out and stated that this is, in fact, a ban on TikTok.

So, the grim reality we face is an effort by the federal government to strip more than 100 million Americans of a platform they use to consume information, advertise their businesses, and express themselves. If enacted, this ban would constitute one of the most egregious acts of censorship in modern American history, which is why First Amendment watchdogs ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression have come out against the bill.

As much as supporters may want to deny it, there’s no escaping the fact that this law regulates Americans’ speech by effectively banning a medium of communication—TikTok—that people like me use to engage in protected political speech.

It’s not enough to simply point out that there are other platforms we can use, just like the existence of other newspapers would never justify government censorship of Newsweek. TikTok is unique among social media platforms—its algorithm allows me to reach audiences I cannot reach anywhere else, as well as an existing audience of subscribers I would lose access to.

Such a blatant restriction of my First Amendment rights could only ever withstand legal muster if the Biden administration could prove that it serves a compelling government interest and is “narrowly tailored.” But it doesn’t—and it isn’t.

Many proponents of the TikTok ban in Congress have cited the content on TikTok, describing it as “propaganda,” as part of their motivation for banning the app. Yet shutting down political speech you dislike is not a legitimate government interest, let alone a compelling one—on the contrary, it only serves to make the bill look even more like an unconstitutional, content-based restriction on speech.

The other concern touted by proponents—protecting Americans from the hostile influence of the Chinese government—may well be a compelling government interest in general. But the actual concerns about TikTok being used as “Chinese government spyware” are almost entirely hypothetical and abstract.

In reality, TikTok is not run by the Chinese government, but by ByteDance, 60 percent of whose ownership consists of global investors, including Americans. The company also has thousands of American employees. Heck, ByteDance’s five-person board even has three Americans on it.

What’s more, there is no compelling evidence that the Chinese government has ever accessed TikTok data to harm Americans. And, if there ever was such an effort, wouldn’t one of the countless Americans involved immediately blow the whistle?

You know the concerns are overblown because the Biden campaign itself continues to use TikTok despite the president supporting a ban on “national security” grounds. If it was really so dangerous, you’d think the president of the United States would’ve led by example and deleted his account! And, former president Donald Trump just joined TikTok just last week.

Even if a threat were to exist, the ban is in no way “narrowly tailored” to address the compelling interest of protecting national security. After all, the government could have regulated how TikTok stores Americans’ data. Instead, it skipped all that and simply imposed a de facto ban. That’s a lot of things, but “narrowly tailored” isn’t one of them.

It ultimately doesn’t matter whether you love TikTok or hate it. This isn’t about one app; it’s about whether we’re willing to accept the government controlling communication and censoring speech. If you ask me, that’s a far bigger threat to Americans than TikTok.

Brad Polumbo is an independent journalist, YouTuber, TikToker, and co-founder of BASEDPolitics.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.