‘If They Can Control the Flow of Information, They Can Control You’: BASEDPolitics Sues To Stop TikTok Ban

June 10, 2024   |   Tags: , , ,
Screen Shot 2024-06-10 at 9.57.30 AM | Hannah Cox/Based Politics

The creators behind BASEDPolitics are suing over a measure meant to either ban TikTok or force its divestiture.

President Joe Biden signed the (highly unconstitutional) bill in April, and it already faces several legal challenges, including one filed by TikTok and one filed by eight TikTok content creators. Like those efforts, the BASEDPolitics suit focuses on the law's affront to free speech.

"We wanted to file a lawsuit that was specifically focused on free speech and the First Amendment from the creators' perspective, rather than some of the other, business-related concerns in other lawsuits," Brad Polumbo of BASEDPolitics tells me. "We also wanted to emphasize the political speech aspect, rather than other creators who are more in the mold of everyday 'influencers,' and show that right-leaning/non-liberal voices are being impacted by this as well."

Polumbo hopes the lawsuit will "help Republicans and conservatives see why this ban is inconsistent with the free speech values they say they care about."

TikTok Ban: Not Just Bad for Lifestyle Influencers or Leftists

BASEDPolitics is a nonprofit media organization run by Polumbo, Hannah Cox, and Jack Hunter. Its goal is to introduce young people "to the ideas of free market capitalism and individual liberty."

TikTok helps them reach audiences they likely wouldn't reach on other platforms, says Cox. "Both Brad and I have large platforms across social media, but TikTok offers a unique audience that can't be found elsewhere," she tells me. "Most on TikTok loathe Meta and X, so if they weren't on TikTok it's unlikely they'd engage meaningfully elsewhere. Their algorithm is also more open, and it enables us to reach many people who would never encounter us otherwise."

There's a popular perception that TikTok either isn't a place for political speech or is an asset only for left-leaning political speakers. But the BASEDPolitics team hasn't found this to be true at all.

"Anyone who thinks TikTok is all just frivolous content is probably not a user," says Polumbo. "There's substantive conversation happening on there on every issue under the sun, from religion to dating to politics." And while "TikTok is dominated by left-leaning content," it's also "a much more politically diverse ecosystem than many might think."

Their suit focuses not just on how a ban would negatively affect BASEDPolitics but on its larger repurcussions for civil liberties.

"We felt the need to stand up as individuals who are using TikTok to effectively fight back against the government and educate others on the principles of free market capitalism, individual rights, and limited government," says Cox, who sees all sorts of "incredible work being done on TikTok—both politically and non politically."

"People are pushing back on war…they're questioning our monetary system, they're highlighting injustices carried out by our government," she says. "Outside of politics, TikTok is now the top search engine for young people. They're getting mental health resources from therapists, DIY help from retired grandpas, nutrition information they can't get from their health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. The list is endless."

Propaganda Is Free Speech

BASEDPolitics is being represented by the Liberty Justice Center. The suit seeks a declaration that the anti-TikTok law—officially known as the Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act—is unconstitutional and a block on the U.S. Attorney General enforcing it.

The law makes it illegal for Americans to "access, maintain, or update" apps linked to "foreign adversaries," a category that the measure defines to include TikTok. TikTok will be banned if TikTok parent company ByteDance does not sell it by January 19, 2025. The law also allows the president to declare other apps off limits (or force their sale) if they're based out of any country declared a foreign adversary or if anyone based in these countries owns a fifth or more of the app.

"The Act violates the First Amendment because it bans all speech on TikTok—even though all, or nearly all, of that speech is constitutionally protected," the Liberty Justice Center states in a press release. "The lawsuit also argues that lawmakers' justifications for the ban—national security and protecting Americans from propaganda—cannot justify the infringement on users' First Amendment rights, because there is no evidence that TikTok threatens national security or that a complete ban is necessary to address whatever threat it might pose. Furthermore, the lawsuit argues, the First Amendment does not allow the government to suppress 'propaganda,' which is simply speech."

Cox elaborates on this point in a video about the lawsuit, noting that people act like TikTok is unique because it could be linked to the Chinese Communist Party. Yet "you have tons of state-owned media that is available in the U.S.," points out Cox, citing the BBC and Russia today as two examples.

In the U.S., we don't ban speech merely because another government—even one we find alarming—might endorse it. So even if some of the more speculative fears about China and TikTok are true, that should be no reason to ban it entirely.

Cox says this sort of thing is more befitting of "communist dystopias" such as North Korea.

There's been some (overhyped) concern about TikTok suppressing content that could offend Chinese authorities. But even if that's true, it wouldn't justify a ban either.

"As First Amendment supporters, we also support the legal right of TikTok as a private platform to ban or restrict whatever kinds of content it wants even if we personally resent their choices or think it's unfair," Polumbo adds.

Larger Anti-Speech and Anti-Tech Trends 

"If enacted, this would constitute one of the most egregious acts of censorship in modern American history," Cox and Polumbo write, placing the TikTok ban in the midst of larger anti-speech and anti-tech trends:

In the federal and state governments, both Republicans and Democrats have become increasingly anti-free speech in recent years. We've seen a plethora of bills that have sought to strip Americans and their businesses of their right to free expression, many of them presented as necessary to rein in "Big Tech." The TikTok ban is merely the latest iteration of this trend.

The truth is that government actors who want to preserve and expand their own power have a vital interest in taking over the tech industry. Of course the government has yet to see a thriving free market industry it doesn't want to get its hands on. But social media in particular poses a unique threat to the government—which has for decades been able to control the flow of information and the narrative on political issues via its cozy relationship with many in the mainstream media.

We've seen the Biden Administration seek to lasso social media in a similar fashion numerous times over the past couple of years thanks to the bombshell reports released under both the Twitter Files and the Facebook Files—not to mention the government-wide conspiracy to shadowban information on our own government's funding of the Wuhan lab….

The obvious point is that government officials do not want the American people to be able to freely share information, especially information that makes them look bad.

The bottom line, they suggest, is that "if they can control the flow of information, they can control you."

"Social media poses a unique threat to politicians and the government, and that's because for decades…the government could control the narrative, and they could control the narrative because they mostly control the mainstream media," says Cox in her video. "As social media has grown, they have lost more and more control of the narrative, because they are no longer the gatekeepers, and they don't control the gatekeepers anymore."

"Ultimately the war on Big Tech is a war on free speech and the government desperately trying to regain control of the narrative the [mainstream media] granted them for decades," she tells me.

The BASEDPolitics team also pushes back on the idea that this isn't really a ban because it gives ByteDance the option to sell. "In effect, the legislation is an outright ban on the app, because Bytedance, TikTok's parent company, is likely legally prohibited from selling the TikTok algorithm by China's export control laws," write Cox and Polumbo. "And, TikTok without its algorithm is not really TikTok at all."

You can read their full complaint here.

More Sex & Tech News

• Supreme Court decisions are coming soon—possibly this week—in two major cases concerning abortion. One of these cases prescriptions of the abortion-inducing drug mifepristone amd another concerns a Biden administration declaration regarding abortions as emergency care.

• Kaytlin Bailey and Yasmin Vafa debate whether it's OK to pay for sex.

• Antitrust warriors come for AI: The Federal Trade Commission is subpoenaing Microsoft over its deal with the artificial intelligence startup Inflection. Meanwhile, the Justice Departments "is poised to investigate Nvidia and its leading position in supplying the high-end semiconductors underpinning AI computing," Politico reports.

• "When a new technology arises, it matters greatly whether technocrats align themselves with dynamists or with reactionaries," Virginia Postrel tells Miller's Book Review. "We were lucky in the 1990s that both political parties included people with positive views of the emerging internet, including people with a dynamist understanding of its potential. The opposite is true today. Reactionaries are in ascendance in both parties, and technocrats are listening to them. Plus there are always businesses seeking to use regulation to hinder their competitors. The result is that instead of regarding AI as an exciting potential tool for enhancing human creativity and fostering prosperity, our public discourse tends to frame it as at best a job-destroyer and at worst the Terminator."

• A federal judge has rejected North Carolina's attempt to mandate that abortion pills must be taken in a doctor's office and that their prescription requires an in-person followup visit 72 hours after the medication is taken. The ruling means that women "can again take the medicine mifepristone at home and can obtain the medication from a pharmacy or by mail," WUNC reports.

• "Because 'misinformation' is overwhelmingly identified by focusing on information that contradicts the consensus judgements of experts and elites within society's leading knowledge-generating institutions, the focus on misinformation ignores how such institutions can themselves be deeply dysfunctional and problematic," writes Dan Williams in a very good (and lengthy) post at Conspicuous Cognition. "This includes science, intelligence agencies, mainstream media, and so on."

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New Orleans | 2012 (ENB/Reason)

The post 'If They Can Control the Flow of Information, They Can Control You': BASEDPolitics Sues To Stop TikTok Ban appeared first on Reason.com.


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