Countdown for TikTok

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in March 2023.

Photo Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images


TikTok, the short-form video social media company owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, has garnered significant popularity in recent years, amassing over 1 billion active users worldwide and surpassing Google as the most popular domain in 2021, according to data from Cloudflare. But TikTok’s Chinese ownership has concerned U.S. lawmakers. Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have raised alarms over ByteDance, which critics say has previously censored content at the behest of the Chinese government (claims TikTok representatives have denied). As China’s 2017 social media law requires companies to turn over any personal data relevant to national security, many fear that China will have easy access to Americans’ browsing history, location, and biometric information. As such, U.S. officials have engaged in fierce debate over how to counter China’s influence, from forcing the transfer of TikTok’s ownership, to banning the platform outright. In May 2023, Montana became the first state to ban TikTok, though the platform swiftly filed a federal lawsuit to block the ban. Bipartisan bans and restrictions have been suggested on the federal level as well, warranting heated debates, both in the government and civil society. Concerns related to Chinese surveillance and propaganda, as well as the potential for theft of state intellectual property, continue to mount. 

Why TikTok?

United States Policy: The RESTRICT Act

Arguments supporting the RESTRICT Act:
  • Statement from National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
  • Statement from Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a sponsor of the RESTRICT Act
Arguments against the RESTRICT Act:

United States Policy: The DATA Act

Arguments supporting the DATA Act:
Arguments against the DATA Act:
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte (R) signs a law banning TikTok in the state on May 17, 2023. TikTok filed a lawsuit in the state five days later, on May 22, 2023, arguing that the ban unconstitutionally violated Free Speech rights.

Photo Credit: Garrett Turner/Montana Governor’s Office via AP

Discussion Questions

  1. How can the U.S. address national security concerns regarding TikTok without infringing upon digital freedom of speech? What types of policies could achieve this balance?
  2. In what ways do U.S. standards of digital Free Speech influence international technology and social media companies?
  3. To what extent are U.S. digital speech standards internationally enforceable? Should they be enforced?
  4. Is privacy a legitimate justification to limit certain types of online speech? How have privacy justifications shaped other First Amendment debates?
  5. What can we learn from other countries that have enacted TikTok restrictions? Have countries that have banned TikTok, such as India, achieved their goals? As a result, how have Free Speech and governance been impacted?
  6. To what extent are the RESTRICT Act and DATA Act constitutional? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  7. What other national security threats do social media companies pose? What actions can or should be taken to address these concerns?


Click on these themes below: Social Media + National Security

Discuss: What does this confluence of stories with these filters tell us about Free Speech issues surrounding digital speech and challenges to national security? How do the themes of these stories apply to the TikTok debate?

Tracker Entries



This course module was prepared by Rachel Gurevich ‘26, a sophomore in the Georgetown School of Foreign Service from New Jersey. She is a researcher at the Free Speech Project, and also on the Georgetown Club Boxing team.