On February 11, the Justice Department asked the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to put on hold its review of the Trump-era ban on WeChat, the popular Chinese messaging app.
This request came a day after the administration asked the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for a similar hold on the case considering the Trump ban on the Chinese mobile video-sharing platform TikTok.
Lower U.S. courts had previously enjoined the enforcement of the Trump bans. WeChat users and TikTok had sued to block enforcement. Trump banned the apps because they were, he correctly contended, collecting "vast swaths" of data and censoring Americans.
The Justice Department's motion in the TikTok case raised the possibility that the Biden administration, after its review of the situation, will drop the ban on the app. "A review of the prohibitions at issue here may narrow the issues presented or eliminate the need for this Court's review entirely," stated Casen Ross, a Justice Department lawyer.
TikTok's threat to the U.S. goes well beyond the surreptitious collection of data and censorship, however. China has used the app's algorithm to inflame American public opinion.
Engineers working for Douyin, TikTok's sister site in China, manage TikTok's algorithms, including those determining which videos are shown to users. That access allows the Chinese government to "boost the signal," in other words, to curate content to get people to act in certain ways. TikTok is addictive because, through the world's most sophisticated commercially available artificial intelligence software, it knows its users' preferences.