TikTok & The First Amendment

On March 23, 2023, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing as part of an ongoing review of TikTok and its connections to the Chinese government. TikTok CEO Shou Chew was the focus of the hearing and took questions from members of Congress on a wide range of topics, including the ways TikTok gathers and secures user data and the access the ruling party of China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has to that data.1

Currently, there is bipartisan support for enacting a ban on TikTok in the United States. The federal government and dozens of state governments have already enacted various policies banning the social media app in official spaces, on official computers, and/or in employees’ personal capacity.2 However, the ban currently gathering support in Congress would make the app unusable by private citizens regardless of their government status, employment, or age. Such an outright ban on social media extended to individual citizens would be unprecedented in the United States and has generated significant controversy.3

READ MORE: For an in-depth look at whether or not Congress should ban TikTok, subscribers can access a new Close Up Current Issue on the topic!

Should TikTok be Banned?

Bipartisan support is not often found in today’s Congress, particularly on far-reaching legislation. Despite Chew’s insistence during his testimony that TikTok has never provided user data to the CCP and would not do so if asked, Democrats and Republicans in Congress remain highly concerned over the security threat they believe TikTok represents.4

At the heart of their concern is the close relationship that major Chinese corporations, including TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, have to maintain with the CCP in order to thrive in China. They argue that despite the assurances of CEOs like Chew, the Chinese government ultimately has the power to access any information Chinese companies retain and can easily compel them to release that data.5

Lawmakers and law enforcement agencies have also cited TikTok as a potential source of pro-China and/or anti-U.S. manipulation, disinformation, and propaganda.6 In an effort to address some of these concerns and prevent a ban, TikTok has proposed Project Texas—a $1 billion plan to ensure that all U.S. data is stored outside of China.7 For many lawmakers, this proposal does not do enough to guarantee that data is protected and that the CCP cannot utilize that data to undermine U.S. interests and national security.

During the hearing, Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) addressed spectators directly by saying, “I want to say this to all the teenagers out there, and TikTok influencers who think we’re just old and out of touch. … You may not care that your data is being accessed now, but you will be one day.”8

Why Keep TikTok?

Currently, more than 150 million Americans are on TikTok, making it one of the most popular social media apps in the country, particularly among teenagers and young adults. The average TikTok user in the United States spends over 90 minutes on the app per day, opening the app no less than eight times during the day.9 In response to the proposed ban, some users have joined together to voice their opposition and the hearing itself became a focus of users’ objections. Many users argued that the hearing only underscored how out of touch lawmakers are with the realities of technology and social media.

Recently, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to TikTok for the first time to announce her opposition to the ban. “They say because of this egregious amount of data harvesting, we should ban this app,” she said. “However, that doesn’t really address the core of the issue.”10 The core of the issue she alluded to is one cited by many of those opposed to the ban. Beyond the fact that TikTok is simply a popular app that users enjoy, some argue that the data-harvesting practices that lawmakers are concerned about are standard to nearly all social media and internet apps. Critics have agreed that data-harvesting and a lack of data privacy are major issues in the United States, but many say a ban on TikTok would do virtually nothing to substantively address those issues.11

For many, a potential TikTok ban also raises broad questions about First Amendment rights—particularly free speech and free expression. Opponents of a TikTok ban question whether the government has any business policing the private activities of private citizens regardless of motive. Some feel that those who have concerns about TikTok’s data privacy practices have the option of not using the app and that the choice of whether to do so should be left to the individual. They argue that while the government may reserve the right to make its own data policies for its employees, it should not be allowed to do the same for private citizens. 12

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you believe Congress should pass a law banning the use of TikTok in the United States?
  2. Do you think the government’s concerns about the potential dangers of TikTok have merit? Or do you agree with the critics who argue that the ban would do little to address those dangers? Why?
  3. Some have suggested that this policy is intended not to protect private data or national security, but instead to enable lawmakers to appear “tough on China.” Why do you think some have made that suggestion? Do you agree?
  4. Although a ban on TikTok may or may not address legitimate security concerns, do you feel that more should be done to protect individual user data from corporations? Do you think maintaining data privacy is an important concern or do you feel that the nature of privacy has changed and lawmakers may be out of touch?

Related Posts

Should Facebook be Regulated?

Fallout and Consequences Part 2: Free Speech and Censorship

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: J. Scott Applewhite, AP News
[1]  https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/25/tech/tiktok-user-reaction-hearing/index.html
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/mar/27/us-tiktok-ban-aoc-joins-protest
[3] https://thehill.com/policy/technology/3920214-how-could-a-tiktok-ban-be-enforced/
[4] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/analysis-can-the-u-s-government-ban-tiktok
[5] https://www.nytimes.com/article/tiktok-ban.html
[6] https://thehill.com/policy/technology/3920214-how-could-a-tiktok-ban-be-enforced/
[7] https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/security/tiktok-tries-sell-project-texas-fights-survival-us-rcna67697
[8] https://apnews.com/article/tiktok-ban-congress-hearing-bytedance-china-biden-ceo-a92f048762d6657f291affb7a0ce6386
[9] https://khoros.com/resources/social-media-demographics-guide
[10] https://thehill.com/homenews/house/3918156-aoc-posts-first-tiktok-in-support-of-the-app-says-ban-doesnt-feel-right/
[11] https://thehill.com/policy/technology/3920214-how-could-a-tiktok-ban-be-enforced/
[12] Ibid.


How Should We Regulate Child Labor?

On March 6, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed into law the Youth Hiring Act, a law that, among other things, allows children between the ages of nine and 16 to be hired without the need for an employment certificate to be filed with the state. Under previous state law, an employment certificate was required to be filed with the state providing proof of age, the work schedule and description, and the consent of the child’s parent or guardian.1 In the past few months, lawmakers in Iowa and Ohio have also proposed legislation that would reduce requirements for youth seeking work.2

READ: “The Good and the Bad of Iowa’s Bill That Would Bring Big Changes to Child Labor Laws,” from the Des Moines Register

READ: “Bill to Extend Working Hours for Ohio Teens Reintroduced by Lawmakers,” from News 5 Cleveland

Proponents of bills like the Youth Hiring Act believe that removing restrictions on child labor would encourage more young people to work and decrease the difficulty businesses have had hiring recently due to record-low unemployment rates. Some lawmakers, such as Iowa State Senator Lynn Evans, have cited the benefits of young people learning the value of work.3 In Arkansas, Governor Sanders provided rationale for removing the certificate requirements. Her spokesperson, Alexa Henning, shared that requiring parents to get permission for their child to work is an additional burden when businesses are required to follow child labor laws regardless of the certificate.4 Business interest groups, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses, have supported the Ohio bill.5

Opponents of these bills have cited statistics indicating that the wellness of young workers could be in jeopardy if they are scheduled for longer hours.6 Children may take on more work than they can handle in order to provide financial support for their families. Randy Zook, CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, voiced his opposition to the Arkansas bill. “The primary thing kids that age need to be focused on is graduating from high school,” he said. “We are afraid this will encourage kids who are under 16 to pursue more work time than school time.”7

These bills have worked their way through state legislatures at the same time that several eye-opening investigations into child labor practices have exposed egregious violations. In July 2022, Reuters published an investigation that documented children as young as 12 working at four Hyundai and Kia subsidiaries.8 On February 25, New York Times reporter Hannah Dreier released the findings of her investigation into the labor conditions of migrant children, interviewing more than 100 children in 20 states.9 Children interviewed included a 15-year-old Guatemalan girl who packages Cheerios, a ninth-grader working 14-hour shifts at a sawmill in South Dakota, and middle schoolers working in bakeries. These working conditions violate federal laws that limit the jobs children can work and the hours and times they can be scheduled.10 The New York Times and Reuters investigations point to a willingness of some businesses in manufacturing, construction, hospitality, and food processing, among others, to turn a blind eye to clear violations of the law and exploit those in vulnerable situations as evidence for increased restriction and oversight of child labor.

Child labor violations had been declining for years. Then, after 2015, they started creeping back up. On February 27, two days after the New York Times report, President Joe Biden’s administration unveiled several policies that will be implemented to address the nearly 70 percent rise in child labor violations that has taken place from 2018-2022.11 The plan includes the creation of a new task force, targeting industries that have a history of violations, and advocating for heavier penalties and more funding for oversight.12 Congressional Democrats largely support the White House proposal. Republicans, meanwhile, say the Department of Health and Human Services is to blame for the child labor crisis because the Biden administration has loosened regulations regarding the support of migrant children.13 One third of migrant children who have been recorded by HHS now cannot be reached by government officials.14

Meanwhile, some states, such as Nebraska, have renewed their support for child labor protections. On January 5, Nebraska State Senator Carol Blood proposed a resolution that would make Nebraska the 29th state to ratify the Child Labor Amendment of 1924, an amendment to the Constitution that, if passed, would specifically allow Congress to regulate the labor of minors.15

Discussion Questions

  1. What might be some of the benefits to loosening child labor laws? What might be the drawbacks?
  2. If the Department of Labor is successful in significantly reducing child labor violations, what might be the outcomes for young workers? For businesses?
  3. Which entity or entities have the most responsibility to regulate children in the workforce: the federal government, state and local governments, businesses, or parents?
  4. What policies, if any, do you think governments should enact in order to promote the best outcomes for youth and child workers?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Canva photo
[1] Newsweek: https://www.newsweek.com/sarah-huckabee-sanders-consider-relaxing-arkansas-child-labor-laws-1785683
[2] Vice: https://www.vice.com/en/article/v7b4d9/rkansas-republicans-relaxing-child-labor-laws
[3] KICD: https://kicdam.com/news/170071-area-legislators-talk-bill-that-would-change-child-labor-laws/
[4] Newsweek: https://www.newsweek.com/sarah-huckabee-sanders-consider-relaxing-arkansas-child-labor-laws-1785683
[5] Axios Columbus: https://www.axios.com/local/columbus/2023/03/07/ohio-may-loosen-child-labor-laws-tim-schaffer
[6] Ibid.
[7] Vice: https://www.vice.com/en/article/v7b4d9/rkansas-republicans-relaxing-child-labor-laws
[8] Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/section/underage-workers/
[9] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/25/us/unaccompanied-migrant-child-workers-exploitation.html
[10] Ibid.
[11] Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/business/us-crack-down-child-labor-amid-massive-uptick-2023-02-27/
[12] Ibid.
[13] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/27/us/biden-child-labor.html
[14] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/25/us/unaccompanied-migrant-child-workers-exploitation.html
[15] Nebraska Examiner: https://nebraskaexaminer.com/briefs/supporters-of-child-labor-resolution-say-it-could-make-nebraska-new-champion/


Revisiting Jimmy Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” Speech

On February 18, the Carter Center released a statement saying that former President Jimmy Carter had opted to spend “his remaining time at home” following a number of hospital stays and declining health.1 News of the 98-year-old former president’s condition has brought an outpouring of support and renewed attention to his life and legacy as the 39th president of the United States. President Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech is perhaps his most famous, and its words are still relevant for our country today.2

President Carter delivered this speech, often referred to as his “Malaise Speech,” on July 15, 1979, while the country was in the midst of an energy crisis.3 After spending several days listening to the concerns of everyday Americans, he concluded that America as a whole suffered from what he called a “crisis of confidence.” This, he said, was a “fundamental threat to American democracy.”4

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.5

President Carter went on to explain that people had lost faith in their government, in each other, and in their own abilities as citizens to shape their democracy. He recognized the disconnect between the federal government and everyday communities. People felt like their government was not working for them. They grew tired of inaction, inefficiency, partisanship, and the unwillingness of elected officials to compromise for the sake of the common good. Americans, in his eyes, were skeptical of the future and doubted the progress we had made as a nation.

For the first time in the history of our country, a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.6

These problems persist in our current political climate. According to a recent NBC News poll from the summer of 2022, three quarters of voters said that the country is “headed in the wrong direction,” with 58 percent also adding that “America’s best years are behind it.”7 And although the 2020 election saw record voter turnout, one third of eligible voters still did not vote.8 Trust in government has been eroding for decades. A May 2022 Pew Research poll found that only 20 percent of Americans believed they could trust the government to do what is right “always or most of the time.”9 This is down from 30 percent who said the same at the time of President Carter’s speech.10

Though the main focus of President Carter’s speech was the energy crisis, he was speaking to a country that had experienced political shock and cynicism. It had seen the assassinations of political and civil rights leaders. It had grown disillusioned with the Vietnam War. There was a widespread feeling of distrust in government institutions and elected officials post-Watergate, and people were hurting financially due to stagflation (high inflation, high unemployment, and slow economic growth).

Americans today face their own similar and unique challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, high inflation, misinformation, and issues of civil rights and racial justice, among others. Lies about the legitimacy of elections led to an attack on the Capitol and continue to saturate our national discourse. Hyperpartisanship has distorted the way we see each other, and a breakdown in basic levels of decency among individuals and political leaders has furthered the divide between “us” and “them.”

President Carter urged Americans to trust in each other and once again find common purpose in order to overcome this ongoing crisis. To reunite the country, it was imperative to restore our “American values.”11 This would take time and effort on behalf of all of us. “Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science,” he concluded. “But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources—America’s people, America’s values, and America’s confidence.”12

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think are the three biggest challenges we currently face as a country?
  2. President Carter saw a “loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.” In what ways are Americans divided or at odds with each other today?
  3. Why might people feel discouraged or disappointed in their government?
  4. Do you agree or disagree with the statement that America’s best days are behind it? Why?
  5. Do you think that we face a crisis of confidence today?
  6. On a scale of 1–5 (with 1 being very low and 5 being very high), how would you rate your confidence in the federal government? Your state or local government?
  7. President Carter believed that Americans needed to “have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this nation.” How can we increase our faith in each other? What should we do in order to be more effective citizens?

Other Resources

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.



Featured Image Credit: Photo Illustration by Slate
[1] Carter Center: https://www.cartercenter.org/news/pr/2023/statement-on-president-carters-health.html
[2] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/23/opinion/jimmy-carter-malaise-speech.html
[3] Ibid.
[4] PBS: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/carter-crisis/
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] NBC News: https://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/first-read/nbc-news-poll-57-voters-say-investigations-trump-continue-rcna43989
[8] Census Bureau: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/2020-presidential-election-voting-and-registration-tables-now-available.html#:~:text=APRIL%2029%2C%202021%20%E2%80%94%20The%202020,by%20the%20U.S.%20Census%20Bureau.
[9] Pew Research: https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2022/06/06/public-trust-in-government-1958-2022/
[10] Ibid.
[11] PBS: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/carter-crisis/
[12] Ibid.