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TikTok app icon on a mobile phone | Photo Credit: Solen Feyissa

Talking to Students About TikTok

April 21, 2023

Talking to Students About TikTok

The U.S. government is weighing a decision to ban TikTok, and young people are not happy. Explore resources that can help you explain why this is happening and the foreign policy that surrounds it.


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What’s So Bad About TikTok?

The Biden administration is exploring a plan to ban TikTok, and young people are not happy. Below are resources to help you explain why this is happening and the foreign policy that surrounds it. 

TikTok, like all social media platforms, has benefits as well as drawbacks. It has broadened the reach of human communication and made information more accessible, but also spreads disinformation and enables state surveillance. 

So, what makes TikTok different in the eyes of the U.S. government? The app is owned by a Chinese company.

Chinese Cyber Policy

Unlike the U.S. and most of its allies who support the idea of a global and open internet, China is an advocate of cyber sovereignty

This means that the Chinese government has the right to govern where data resides, making it easier for Chinese intelligence to conduct surveillance. The U.S. government fears that TikTok could be compelled to hand over personal information about its users to the Chinese authorities.

The Splinternet: Should the Internet Respect National Borders?

Is the internet a global and open tool, or do countries have the right to regulate it within their borders as they wish? Learn about the United States’ and China’s differing perspectives, and what a world with a “splinternet” might look like. Watch this video with your class.

Chinese Influence

The contentious relationship between the U.S. and China has led to concerns that TikTok could use its platform to influence billions of users’ views on key issues or suppress videos critical of the Chinese government.

Use the topics below to help frame some of the current tensions between the two nations for your class:

  • Ideology: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
    The CCP has a monopoly on political power in China, and recently cracked down on civil society, ramped up its system of highly effective internet censorship and eliminated presidential term limits. Learn more about the goals and motivations of Chinese leaders.
  • Economics: Trade Wars and Tariffs 
    In overtaking the U.S. as the world’s largest trading partner, China showed it knows how to navigate the rules so the global economy works to its advantage. Dive deeper into China's economic rise.
  • International Relations: Disputed Regions 
    China has exerted territorial claims over disputed areas like the South China Sea by building entirely new islands in this area, complete with airstrips, military installations and ports. Explore why the South China Sea is so important.

Facing both legal concerns and opposition from the public, the future of a national U.S. ban on TikTok is uncertain, but the conversation around the app and America’s relationship with China is here to stay. 

These resources can help you address this issue and its complexity with your students.

CFR Education
CFR Education aims to close the global literacy gap in our country by providing accessible, accurate, and authoritative resources that build the knowledge, skills, and perspective high school and higher education students need to understand and engage with today’s most pressing global issues.... See More

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