President Trump Looks to Ban Chinese Social Media Apps in the Interest of National Security

Mike Pompeo

Social media has often been utilized as a platform for the public to heard attacks on individuals or express controversy through gathered support. When the general public utilizes tools offered by social media platforms, such as the hashtag or live videos and stories to distribute particular messages, it becomes almost impossible to stop, or slowdown the spread. In the age of social media dependency to disseminate news across the globe, foreign infiltrations pose a security threat to a country’s activities and its citizens’ privacy.

Section 706 codified as 47 USC 606, is a provision under the Communications Act that allows the president to shut down radio communications, and stations or facilities for wire communications. Radio communications entail broadcasting and mobile phone networks, and wire communications involves the internet and telephone networks. The President is empowered to exercise the statute through a “proclamation by the President” based on a declared “national emergency in the case of broadcast stations and mobile phones,” or towards national security interests for internet and telephone networks. A national emergency deals with “unusual and extraordinary threats,” while national security “has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States.” The president also has the power to amend or suspend regulations under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Trump has employed several tactics to attempt to shut down a variety of social media platforms by using his government authority to supervise the media’s journalistic standards. Throughout his term in office, Trump has speculated that the public on social media dominate the far left from the political spectrum, claiming that social media is employed as a moderator for conservative ideologies, and a weapon against a Republican seat in office.

Section 230 (47 USC 606)

During the Oval Office event, the president intimidated Twitter and other online social media networks after Twitter began fact-checking the president on May 26th, sparking conflict between Trump and the platform. According to Twitter, Trump made false statements about voter fraud and mail-in voting. A week later, Twitter decided to restrict Trump’s tweets regarding the Minnesota protests that encouraged violence. “REVOKE 230!” Trump tweets in response to Twitter’s acts. Trump signed an “Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship” in the US District Court for the District of Columbia on May 28th, that aims to remove social media’s legal immunity. The order instructed the FCC to oversee whether the proposal was made in “good faith” and was approved by the FCC commissioner Brendan Carr. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was passed by Congress in 1996 states that online platforms are not legally accountable for what people post.  Eric Goldman, a “professor at Santa Clara University Law School and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute”, explains that Section 230 is the reason as to why online open dialogue is possible. Nonetheless, revoking  Section 230  has reached a bipartisan consensus, as Joe Biden also expressed his support to remove online legal immunity for social media sites. . Democrats, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have complained that Section 230 allows the spread of misinformation and harassment online and undoing it would force tech platforms to do more to stop this kind of content. As many Republicans accuse the media for silencing Republican voices, they argue that revoking Section 230 would give Republicans the chance to sue social media sites. The Executive Order serves to prevent social media platforms from fighting voter suppression and misinformation so that they can go unchecked in the upcoming election. Essentially, his Executive Order violates Twitter’s right for using the First Amendment to be able to moderate his Tweets. The president’s order also impedes other platforms’ rights to exercise their free speech. Subsequently, social media platforms may be discouraged to moderate his posts in fear of the federal government’s response.


            More recently on Fox News in early July, ZTE Corporation, a corporation partially owned by Chinese individuals, and Huawei technology has been deemed a national security threat to the United States by the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. With respect to the use of Chinese apps on people’s phones in the U.S., TikTok and other Chinese apps alike are being investigated to dictate whether they should be banned in the United States. On the radar for a period of a year, TikTok, owned by a Beijing-based internet technology company called ByteDance, has been accused by Washington D.C of censoring its content where its data may be accessible by Beijing.  TikTok’s American CEO, Kevin Mayer, has made attempts to rebuild the diminishing trust with regulators and move away from its parent company and has claimed that data from U.S. users are backed in Singapore and are not under Chinese law. Not only is the Trump administration convinced that downloading the social media app will give away private information for the Chinese Communist Party, but India has also been skeptical of Chinese apps and have blocked 59 of them, including TikTok. In light of recent events, TikTok plans to stop operations of the app in the Hong Kong market due to the national security law established by Beijing. China’s new legislation declares crimes of sedition, secession, and complicity with foreign forces as punishable for life in prison, giving power to authorities to search any place for evidence, and ban people who are being investigated from leaving Hong Kong. Business proceeds linked to offences that are a threat to Chinese national security will be confiscated, subsequently agents and political organizations in foreign countries and Taiwan are required to expose activities that concern Hong Kong. TikTok’s intended market was the international sphere, while a different app called Douyin is run by ByteDance in China. Numerous companies, many based in the U.S., plan to pause co-operations for data requests with authorities in Hong Kong, such as Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter. These companies have been blocked in China but were able to have access to the Hong Kong market.

            Agreements between countries are not always effective, and can falter over time due to limited progress, the constantly changing socio-political atmosphere, shifting political agendas, or shifting means to achieve their political agenda. For example, despite the immediate news Trump conveyed after meeting with Kim Jon-Un in 2018 that there is no nuclear threat from North Korea in the U.S., several analysts warn that there is a likelihood that North Korea may hack the 2020 election. A subsequent state of emergency driven by growing tensions between North Korea and the U.S. may be an excuse for Trump to trigger Section 706. The increased paranoia of foreign powers utilizing the internet for the purpose of interfering with democratic activities and spreading disinformation to create societal division creates a national security threat for the United States. How concrete Trump’s plans are to constrain the internet depends on whether a national security threat is announced in light of future events that suggests evidence of a foreign infiltration. The president has yet to declare the need to trigger Section 706 in response to recent events.

sawan image

The media is the ultimate tool to create, shape and distribute messages to the masses. However, the rise of disinformation in the media has contributed to misconceptions on domestic and international political matters and citizen experiences. I am particularly interested in investigating the ways politicians utilize the media for political communication techniques to shape and distribute messages that influences the masses, and subsequently political processes. I am a senior at Queen's University in Canada majoring in political studies, with a minor in sociology and completing a certificate of law. I have attended a mock parliamentary process at Parliament Hall in Ottawa, Canada during my first two years at my university. After graduation, my career goal is to become a lawyer in the United States. It is everyone's duty to be political, and understand more about the world around them. My chosen degree has taught me that investigating the behind-the-scenes activities of media platforms is crucial to understand why media platforms that value neutrality and aim to dismantle as much bias as possible is key to facilitating this process. The Political Awareness team aims to achieve this task and provide non-partisan information. To claim to be "non-political" is to disregard the processes that influences the world around us and to turn a blind-eye towards the unjust activities shaped by a misuse of power.

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