TikTok, the First Amendment and the Public's Right to Know

ByteDance rejection of Microsoft Bid for TikTok Could Put First Amendment to the Test

TikTok, the First Amendment and the Public's Right to Know

News broke yesterday that ByteDance rejected Microsoft's offer to buy TikTok, and instead will "partner" with Oracle to run TikTok in the United States.

This is big news, and could have profound First Amendment implications. Trump has threatened to ban TikTok in the United States. Were it owned by Microsoft, an American corporation, banning any of its media would be an obvious, ipso facto, violation of the First Amendment, and its provision that "Congress [i.e, the Federal government] shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press".

But what about TikTok, still owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, which presumably will still have some major role in TikTok's operation in the United States, with its American partner Oracle? Some would argue that the First Amendment pertains only to American media. I (and others) would argue otherwise. The First Amendment is designed to protect the public's right to know -- Congress is prohibited from banning or restricting media because that seriously interferes with everyone's right to know what's going on. How else can a democracy function?

I'm glad that ByteDance said no to Microsoft. I have nothing at all against Microsoft -- in fact, I defended Microsoft against our government's foolish threats to break up their alleged monopoly back in the 1990s -- but I'm glad that ByteDance's action might well put Trump's blustering to a legal test. If that happens, if Trump and his advisors deem the ByteDance/Oracle partnership in TikTok not a sufficiently American ownership, and he doesn't back down on his threat to ban TikTok, it will ultimately be up to the U. S. Supreme Court to determine whether the First Amendment protects the public's right to have access to international media, which is becoming increasingly important in our interconnected world.

You never know for sure about any Supreme Court decision before it's rendered, but I'm always glad to see an issue like this, which gets at the First Amendment and its foundation of our democracy, put to the judicial test.

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Paul Levinson
Paul Levinson
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Paul Levinson

Paul Levinson's novels include The Silk Code & The Plot To Save Socrates; his LPs Twice Upon A Rhyme & Welcome Up; his nonfiction including Fake News in Real Context, The Soft Edge & Digital McLuhan have been translated into 15 languages.

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