TikTok, TikTok: Students Respond to the Looming TikTok and WeChat Ban

Students reflect on how the WeChat and TikTok ban has affected their lives.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Ivy Jiang

Waves of panic swept through the nation on August 6, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning Chinese-owned mobile apps WeChat and TikTok from the U.S. App Store, declaring both apps threats to national security. The number of downloads for both apps skyrocketed, and users scrambled to find new alternatives.

For Chinese-Americans specifically, the WeChat ban feels personal. Owned by Tencent, WeChat is a popular messaging, social media, and mobile payment platform that lets Chinese-Americans communicate with family and friends overseas. On the other hand, since its release in 2016 by the company ByteDance, TikTok has quickly become a global phenomenon, featuring short-video content such as dance videos and social media challenges. The ramifications of this ban are a devastating blow to U.S. teenagers and the Chinese-American community alike.

Though the executive order was issued only recently, trouble between U.S. officials and Chinese companies has been brewing for years. That’s why when junior Rachel Lin first heard about Trump’s plans to ban WeChat and TikTok, she dismissed it. “I thought it was a big joke. I didn’t think he’d actually do it,” she explained.

“[Trump] also promised to do a bunch of other stuff [and] is prone to tantrums, and his emotions are quite sporadic.” Junior George Lin shared a similar sentiment to Rachel Lin: “I thought it was [a] publicity stunt,” he admitted.

Rachel Lin, who uses WeChat to advertise her nonprofit International Language Club, is especially upset about the ban. The International Language Club teaches a variety of language classes to kids of all ages, many of whom are Chinese. Using WeChat is essential for coordinating between students, parents, and teachers and to make announcements. “I have to figure out how [I am] going to run the club without WeChat,” she said. “What other platform can I use to communicate? How am I gonna run the club? It’s a big mess trying to get everything organized.”

It’s not just students affected by the WeChat ban but also their parents. Junior Daisy Lin’s parents prefer using WeChat to other platforms due to the app’s convenient and unique messaging features. “It allows my parents to post pictures like Instagram, send messages over text and voice, and write short statements like Twitter. WeChat is essentially the all-in-one for many Chinese-Americans,” she said.

Emphasizing WeChat’s popularity, George Lin described how his parents clamored to find another platform to communicate with his extended family in China and other parents from Stuyvesant. “There’s this huge Stuy parents chat, and my mom receives a lot of school information from there,” he said. Since hundreds of Stuyvesant parents use WeChat, re-adding contact numbers and creating new group chats on another platform will be an arduous task.

Freshman Unique Zhang also relies on WeChat to communicate with her middle school peers. “My entire eighth-grade class is on WeChat; if any of us want to chat, I could easily do so. I could probably use Facebook, but it’s just inconvenient and new to me,” she explained.

Similarly, other students expressed their concern about the TikTok ban. “I remember my friends being really sad about the fact that they can’t do ‘Renegade’ dances on TikTok anymore,” said Rachel Lin.

While some teenagers are avid users of TikTok, others, like senior Katie Ng, are not particularly upset about the ban. “I myself spend hours on TikTok every day; the most I've spent was 24 hours in a week, so if there is suddenly no more TikTok, it would take me a while to adjust. It might be a good thing because I should focus on schoolwork,” she said.

Rachel Lin agreed that this ban is an opportunity to eliminate social media distractions: “While my friends are really sad about it, [...] it’s minor for me. Watching TikTok feels like falling down a hole of 4:00 a.m., six-second videos,” she said.

According to Zhang, however, TikTok is not just used for six-second trends. “TikTok has been spreading a lot of awareness [regarding pandemic safety measures],” she noted. Instead of focusing on social media, Zhang felt that Trump should be focusing on how to properly manage the COVID-19 pandemic. “Perhaps he should focus on that instead and try to make America better, as he claims to make America great again,” she said.

Additionally, George Lin felt that Trump harbors a grudge against TikTok due to his failed rally turnout in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is banning it under the guise of protecting national security. TikTok users and K-pop fans allegedly registered for hundreds of thousands of tickets for Trump’s June 2020 Tulsa campaign rally, only to cancel at the last minute. “He probably didn’t like TikTok because of that and is using national security as the perfect excuse,” he said.

Though the executive order was issued to take effect on Sunday, September 20, a recent surprising twist of events has postponed both the WeChat and TikTok ban. After ByteDance struck a deal with Oracle, an American software company, and Walmart that gave both companies a shared 20 percent stake in the new U.S.-based TikTok Global company, the ban was pushed a week later to September 27. As for WeChat, Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler from California has agreed to temporarily delay the WeChat ban, noting that it was a violation of First Amendment rights.

In light of this news, Rachel Lin was relieved to find that she had more time to transfer the logistics of her club from WeChat to another platform: “I’m happy I don’t have to rush organizing work and switch my [club’s] tutors and directors to another platform like Messenger,” she said. “I’m sure my friends are also happy they can still watch their ‘Renegade’ dances at 2:00 a.m.”

Zhang is also relieved about the postponement, though she remains skeptical about how long it will hold. “I’m not sure whether or not the ban is still going to happen. It looks like the government is going back-and-forth with Trump,” she said. “For now, I guess I don’t have to ask my friends to add me on Facebook anymore, which would’ve been such a hassle.”

While the case for the TikTok and WeChat ban is still ongoing, users can only hope that the U.S. government can work out a satisfactory deal with ByteDance and Tencent. For the time being, many users have already started adapting to these changes. “Although the ban would stop my parents from connecting in a way they’re used to, I’m confident that they will adapt to another method of contact,” Daisy Lin said.

And ultimately, as families adapt to these changes, students might also take this chance to ponder the values of Internet security. Do they think that the ban is justified for “national security” reasons? Or, is there a more subtle reason behind the claimed importance of data privacy?