Commentary: Ban TikTok or Let Beijing Control Our Broadcast Networks, Too

Tiktok User
by Chris Fenton


In the dynamic landscape of global entertainment, the influence of Beijing over Hollywood has long been a topic of heated discussion. While the box office power of the Chinese market has waned, giving a breath of creative freedom back to our filmmakers, there looms a new and more pervasive form of influence on Hollywood and well beyond: TikTok.

Beijing may have lost theatrical market leverage, but it has more than made up for that with an overpowering social media presence that has become an epidemic, not just in Hollywood but throughout the United States. In fact, the Chairman of Congress’s Select Committee on China, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), accurately labels TikTok as “digital fentanyl” and has been aggressively campaigning to ban the social media app.

As a media executive and a storyteller attuned to the intricate dance between creativity, commerce, and geopolitics, I’ve watched Beijing’s sway over Hollywood’s storytelling shift shapes. TikTok, a platform that has rooted itself deep into the fabric of American youth culture, is at the forefront of this transformation. It’s not merely a social media app; it’s a potent tool of influence, information, data collection, commerce, and creativity. One that has far outpaced traditional broadcast networks in its reach and impact on young Americans. However, unfortunately for the welfare of our great nation, TikTok is under the control of a non-allied nation’s pernicious government.

Here in Hollywood, the conversation is no longer about market access and box office numbers inside the PRC. That Golden Goose is cooked. Instead, it’s about the very platforms we use to create, promote, and share content here in the United States and elsewhere. When mentioning TikTok in those discussions, China inevitably comes up. After all, TikTok is a platform owned by a Chinese company, operated under the jurisdiction and oversight of Beijing, and heavily scrutinized by Washington as a result.

The app provides Beijing an ability to understand, control, and influence Americans well beyond simply Hollywood content. In fact, the platform is much more damaging in how it shapes the opinions and perspectives of adults under 30 years of age or, in other words, the future generations of Americans. According to Pew Research, a third of those under 30 rely solely on TikTok for news, and Beijing can throttle, amplify, or completely censor exactly what the app distributes as “news.” Yes, TikTok’s multitude of lobbyists, public relations personnel, and lawyers spin and argue the opposite, but the platform has been caught contradicting one too many times. Beijing almost certainly calls the shots.

Understanding such, the nefarious activities from our rival across the Pacific now seem gravely damaging to American interests, especially in an election year. Beijing will almost certainly use TikTok to study voter data and control the flow of information and news, attempting to dictate the 2024 election results. In December, the New York Times stated, “pundits call next year the ‘TikTok election’ because of the ballooning power and influence of the video app. TikTok … has increasingly become a news source for millennials and Gen Z-ers, who will be a powerful part of the electorate.”

Worse, research by Securing Democracy found that 30% of major party candidates in Senate races used TikTok accounts as part of their campaign strategies in 2022, and the number is likely higher today.

Logic points to the obvious. TikTok should be banned. And before those opposing such a ban even try to invoke the “Freedom of Speech/First Amendment” argument, there is a simple and effective counter. In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission prohibits control of American broadcast networks by hostile foreign governments and entities beholden to them. The ban is grounded in the steadfast belief that we must protect our national narrative and cultural sovereignty from nations looking to weaken or divide us. The question, then, is why should TikTok be an exception? Why allow a foreign-owned entity such profound access to the psyches of our youth, the perspectives of our voters, and the heart of our creative industries, especially since Beijing thinks the global app isn’t even worthy of access in its own nation?

Banning the app is straightforward, with precedence, and, frankly, extremely necessary. This is not a call for censorship, nor is it an indictment of the vibrant creativity that TikTok has fostered among millions of users. It is a call for consistency in our policies and for the protection of our national interests.

Prohibition may seem disruptive, but instead, it comes with minimal cost and substantial benefits. It will propel Hollywood back to American-owned and controlled platforms, ensuring that our content and the means of its distribution remain free from the shadow of foreign manipulation. It’s also a nice, long-overdue action of reciprocity in the bilateral relationship. Beijing has tilted the scales toward its own domestic players by stifling or banning foreign competitors inside the PRC. Why not do the same to allow Instagram, Twitter, or some other innovative American social media platform to pick up the market that TikTok vacates?

Some may argue that TikTok is too entrenched to be uprooted, and that its ban would be a loss too great for the users who have built communities on its platform. But let us not underestimate the resilience and ingenuity of our creative community. Hollywood has always been at the vanguard of change, pioneering new ways to tell stories and connect with audiences. In the absence of TikTok, other platforms will rise, fostering an ecosystem that will thrive under the values and freedoms we hold dearly.

Let’s seize this opportunity. Let’s safeguard the creative freedoms that have made Hollywood a beacon of storytelling around the world and, more importantly, protect the integrity of American elections and promote American technological ingenuity.

It’s time to ban TikTok. Either that, or we should just allow Beijing full control of our broadcast networks, too.

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Chris Fenton is a longtime media executive, producer, and author of “Feeding the Dragon: Inside the Trillion Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, and American Business.” As an informal advisor to Congress’ Select Committee on China and a member of the U.S.-Asia Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, National Committee on U.S. China Relations, and Third Way Think Tank, he founded his own firm, FENTON · International Business Strategy & Communications to help the private sector and Washington navigate America’s complicated relationship with non-allied nations. Follow him on X @TheDragonFeeder.






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One Thought to “Commentary: Ban TikTok or Let Beijing Control Our Broadcast Networks, Too”

  1. Diana Barahona

    The solution to speech you dislike is more speech, not less. Russell Brand makes this point very well, while highlighting just how ignorant Tom Cotton is about just about everything.