Congress can’t ban TikTok ‘just in case’

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A hand holds a phone displaying the TikTok icon and the words "TikTok"

TikTok is used by around 150 million Americans, including journalists. Photo courtesy of Nordskov Media.

Like a bad penny, bills to ban TikTok keep turning up in Congress. We’ve written before about how such proposals are unconstitutional and would enable mass censorship. The newest legislation that would effectively ban the platform, passed earlier this month by the House of Representatives, is no exception.

Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) Advocacy Director Seth Stern warns that banning TikTok would impose a prior restraint on journalism and set a precedent for future censorship, including bans on foreign news sites.

Stern writes:

The reality is that even definitive proof that a platform is propagandizing or surveilling Americans wouldn’t justify censorship. The Pentagon Papers case established that “national security” isn’t a magic word that nullifies the First Amendment—and there, the alleged threat was to troops’ lives, not college kids’ political thought. Nonetheless, Justice Hugo Black explained that “the word ‘security’ is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment.”

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