Updated with bill introduction

(WASHINGTON)—Legislation introduced Wednesday by Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Representative Ken Buck (R-Co.), seeking to ban TikTok should deeply alarm anyone who cares about free expression and how we use the internet to create, collaborate, and connect with each other, PEN America said today.

While there are legitimate concerns about TikTok, including the app’s data collection practices and its ownership by Chinese company ByteDance, the wholesale banning of a speech platform, as the No TikTok on United State Devices Act  would do, cannot be the answer to those concerns, PEN America said. Such an action would curtail the expression of millions of people in the United States–and potentially beyond, as there is a real risk authoritarian regimes would use a ban in the U.S. to justify cracking down on speech and engaging in unfettered censorship of their own.

While Hawley and Buck claim that their proposed ban would address concerns about child privacy and mental well-being, there is no indication that a blanket ban on TikTok would resolve long-standing questions about protecting user data and preventing online abuse across all digital platforms—questions that require serious and thoughtful solutions, not a sweeping resort to censorship and the undermining of free expression. 

Legislation  such as Hawley’s and Buck’s–including the recently introduced Terminate TikTok on Campus Act (H.R. 231), which would prohibit federal funding of higher education institutions unless they ban TikTok on institution-owned devices–are not the way forward. TikTok presents new challenges that require serious answers, but policymakers should shift their focus from laws that directly target free expression to evidence-based and proven solutions that promote, rather than erode, human and civil rights.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057