US trying to ban TikTok: Learning to live in an infodemic 

Romaan Basit, UK

Yesterday (20 April 2024), the US House of Representatives voted in favour of banning TikTok in the country. The bill requires TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, to sell its stakes in the hugely popular video-sharing app within nine months. Should it fail to find a buyer in this timeframe, TikTok will face a complete ban in the United States. 

The bill has now moved up to the Senate which could be bad news for TikTok. President Joe Biden has already expressed his support for such measures, indicating he would be in favour of the banning.

Responding to the proposed ban, TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, directly appealed to the millions of users in the US through a video message. He acknowledged that the bill would “lead to a ban of TikTok in the United States” and urged users to share – with friends, families, and even Senators – their positive stories and experiences with the app. This aims to rally support and potentially sway lawmakers against the impending ban.

Why the bill is being passed

There are growing concerns about TikTok’s data security practices. Lawmakers and intelligence agencies like the FBI fear the app could potentially expose sensitive user data to China. These apprehensions have been mounting for over a year. In February 2023, the White House ordered federal agencies to remove the app from government devices. Many educational institutes also blocked TikTok on their campus Wi-Fi networks. 

TikTok referred to these bans as “political theatre”, criticising lawmakers for trying to censor Americans. In March, it urged users to oppose the ban, and some Capitol Hill offices, as a result, even said they were flooded with calls.

Rapid increase in misinformation

The data privacy breach, however, is not the only issue with TikTok. We are currently living in an ‘infodemic’ era. This has been defined as a “situation in which a lot of false information is being spread in a way that is harmful” by the Cambridge Dictionary. Generally seen as an app for lighter comedic content, it has now become a news platform. Recently, it has been noticed that a rising number of teens rely on TikTok for their daily news fix.

The ripples have been felt across the pond in the UK where the regulator Ofcom’s research showed that TikTok has become the single most popular source of news for teenagers. The media regulator found that a significant 28% of 12 to 15-year-olds utilise the app to stay updated on current affairs, surpassing all other platforms. YouTube and Instagram closely follow, with 25% usage each. (“News consumption in the UK: 2023 Research findings”,

Nic Newman, a senior research associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, observed that “until recently, the network had a reputation built almost exclusively on fast-moving, funny, or musical memes, but stories such as Black Lives Matter, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine have helped make news a much bigger part of the mix”. (“How publishers are learning to create and distribute news on TikTok”

With the rise of artificial intelligence, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate fact from fiction. A piece in The New York Times stated that “misleading edits, fake news stories, and deepfake images of politicians are starting to warp reality on the popular video platform.” (“Worries Grow That TikTok Is New Home for Manipulated Video and Photos”,

Tiffany Hsu, reporter for The New York Times, precisely explained that “extended exposure to manipulated media can intensify polarization and whittle down viewers’ ability and willingness to distinguish truth from fiction.” (Ibid.)

As a caveat, it must be said that TikTok, like any other platform, is not inherently negative by nature. The problem arises from the way it is used – the spread of fake news and false stories serves as an exploitation of the app. But how can we, as consumers, stay safe from this ‘infodemic’?

Verification of news before acceptance

Islam presents a very simple and clear principle when it comes to news. When anyone brings us a piece of news, whether that be a person, an app or mainstream news outlets, we must thoroughly verify it and assess it as the very first step. (Surah al-Hujurat, Ch.49: V:7) Just recently during the Israel-Palestine crisis, we saw a great deal of false news being spread, for instance, the beheading of 40 Israeli babies. After professional analysis, it turned out to be a false story. 

This Islamic principle acts as a shield against fake news. Each time we see a news article or video online, we must think to ourselves: Who wrote this? How credible is the source? If we start doing this, instead of merely accepting a screenshot, audio clip, or news report at face value, fake news might still remain a pandemic, but we will have built some immunity for ourselves.

The Psychology of Learning and Motivation published a research, in which researchers advise that the “source” of any information should always be researched. For example, if a chef gives advice on cancer, we should immediately realise that this is outside their area of expertise. In this way, when the original source of information is uncovered, the truth will often follow. (The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Volume 71)

It is interesting to see how researchers are reaching conclusions that Islam taught over fourteen centuries ago: Not everything is inherently harmful; it is all about how we use it – TikTok being no exception.

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