Amid a national debate over whether Congress should ban TikTok, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Saturday posted her first video on the social media platform to make the case for shifting the focus to broad privacy protections for Americans.
The New York Democrat's move follows TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifying before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as rights content creators, privacy advocates, and other progressive lawmakers rallying against a company-specific ban on Capitol Hill earlier this week.
Supporters of banning TikTok—which experts say would benefit its Big Tech competitors, Google, Meta, and Snap—claim to be concerned that ByteDance, the company behind the video-sharing platform, could share data with the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, digital rights advocates such as Fight for the Future director Evan Greer have argued that if really policymakers want to protect Americans from the surveillance capitalist business model also embraced by U.S. tech giants, "they should advocate for strong data privacy laws that prevent all companies (including TikTok!) from collecting so much sensitive data about us in the first place, rather than engaging in what amounts to xenophobic showboating that does exactly nothing to protect anyone."
Ocasio-Cortez embraced that argument, saying in her inaugural video: "Do I believe TikTok should be banned? No."
"I think it's important to discuss how unprecedented of a move this would be," Ocasio-Cortez says. "The United States has never before banned a social media company from existence, from operating in our borders, and this is an app that has over 150 million Americans on it."
Advocates of banning TikTok "say because of this egregious amount of data harvesting, we should ban this app," she explains. "However, that doesn't really address the core of the issue, which is the fact that major social media companies are allowed to collect troves of deeply personal data about you that you don't know about without really any significant regulation whatsoever."
"In fact, the United States is one of the only developed nations in the world that has no significant data or privacy protection laws on the books," the congresswoman stresses, pointing to the European Union's legislation as an example. "So to me, the solution here is not to ban an individual company, but to actually protect Americans from this kind of egregious data harvesting that companies can do without your significant ability to say no."
"Usually when the United States is proposing a very major move that has something to do with significant risk to national security, one of the first things that happens is that Congress receives a classified briefing," she notes, adding that no such event has happened. "So why would we be proposing a ban regarding such a significant issue without being clued in on this at all? It just doesn't feel right to me."
The "Squad" member further argues that "we are a government by the people and for the people—and if we want to make a decision as significant as banning TikTok," any information that could justify such a policy "should be shared with the public."
"Our first priority," Ocasio-Cortez concludes, "should be in protecting your ability to exist without social media companies harvesting and commodifying every single piece of data about you without you and without your consent."