Tik Tok ban wouldn’t draw likes from many California pols

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The Chinese-owned social media app TikTok is under fire from policymakers coast to coast, with legislatures in 30 states banning it from government-owned devices; the popular video-sharing app was also recently banned from devices managed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

California lawmakers could be among the next to ban app, after Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and Assemblywoman Kate Sanchez, R-Temecula, both introduced bills in mid-January to block access to TikTok.

That would not sit well with some of the app’s most prolific users in California government.

Dodd’s Senate Bill 74 and Sanchez’s Assembly Bill 227 would effectively do the same thing: prohibit the users of state-owned or issued devices from downloading apps owned by, or headquartered in, potentially dangerous foreign countries. SB 74 doesn’t name names, but AB 227 does, calling out TikTok specifically, and also labelling China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba as countries of concern.

The California bills are a rare example of Golden State lawmakers following in the footsteps of legislators in other states, rather than blazing their own trail, but the proposals are noteworthy as Gov. Gavin Newsom actively uses TikTok to push his messaging and the platform is generally viewed as an excellent means to reach young constituents.

“I do understand there’s privacy and security issues around TikTok,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, who uses TikTok to reach constituents, but noted he’s hasn’t read the proposals to ban the platform and isn’t prepared to say where he stands on them. “For me, TikTok has been an incredibly powerful way to reach particularly younger voters,” said Wiener, who has 5,066 followers and 138,100 likes on his TikTok account, @scott_wiener, and has posted 33 videos to the platform since late January 2022.

Newsom’s @cagovernor account boasts 164,700 followers and 2.1 million likes, and has posted more than 200 videos since the early days of the pandemic, in March 2020. His use of TikTok is so prolific, Fox News recently did a story questioning why he continues to “cling” to the app when its being at least partially banned in both red and blue states.

Newsom isn’t the only California politician to see the value of TikTok, however. In an August story headlined, “Cool or cringe? Politicians try to connect on TikTok, but risk the dreaded ‘teenage eye roll’,” Los Angeles Times reporter Priscella Vega highlighted Republican Congressional candidate Brian Hawkins’ use of TikTok in his unsuccessful bid to oust Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz. In a 51-second clip that received comments from more than 12,000 users, Hawkins declared himself as “the most dangerous political figure in California.”

Hawkins’ election bid failed, but the clip showed the potential utility of TikTok, a utility that could be cut off or at least hindered with a California ban. Hawkins, a member of the San Jacinto City Council, said he believes Republicans in particular are in favor of banning TikTok because it’s “a space for younger generations,” but the GOP has not yet figured out how to reach that demographic, so it doesn’t see the value of the platform.

“It’s a tool to be used to reach a younger demographic,” Hawkins said of TikTok. “I’m definitely against any bans of it.”

A quick search of TikTok shows at least a few other entities connected to California politics and government have accounts on the platform. Visit California, the nonprofit that promotes California tourism, may be the most active; its account, @vistitcalifornia, has 165,500 followers, 2.1 million likes and more than 300 videos posted. The policy group California Environmental Voters (@envirovoters) has 267 followers, 7,376 likes and posted 54 videos. Even the California Department of Conservation (@calconservation) has dabbled on TikTok, with eight followers, 15 likes and three videos posted.

Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, also uses TikTok to reach out to his constituents. His account, @ashkalraca, has 18,600 followers, 495,700 likes and has posted 515 videos since January 2021. He uses his own personal phone to post to the platform and would not be affected if a ban were passed.

Of course, governments elsewhere across the country seem to have embraced TikTok far more than in California – but their use of the app just further underscores the potential megaphone the Golden State could be giving up if it were partially banned here.

“It’s a really important platform,” Wiener said. “I think more elected officials should learn to use it effectively.”


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