Banning TikTok Will Only Make Youth More Cynical
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Banning TikTok Will Only Make Youth More Cynical

Removing TikTok is another reason for the youth to be disengaged in the political cycle

Wise old-heads are always fighting against the cynicism of youth. As long as there are politics, this will always be a dynamic we have to fight against.

Often younger generations default to a kind of “politicians are all the same” heuristic; that despite the specificities of ideology, policy and platforms, neither party really has their best interest at heart. Though they aren’t the only ones, young people end up rejecting direct political engagement, even towards the areas they care the most about. In the 2016 election (an election that anyone reading knows was one of the most important elections in American history), less than half of Americans 18 to 29 voted.

For the older and more experienced of us (regardless of what political ideologies we hold), we can see how this conflation (regardless of its merits) can be both contradictory and harmful. It would be hard to find a cogent argument that the Democrats and Republican are eligned—on a range of issues (abortion, LGBTQ rights, gun control, housing, cost of higher education, the war in Gaza, etc.).

That said, the fact that Congress is getting ready to ban TikTok only exacerbates the notion that neither party has its priorities straight. President Biden signed a bi-partisan bill that gives TikTok’s parent company ByteDance nine months to sell (with a possible extension if the sale is in progress) or else it will be banned. CEO Shou Zi Chew said that the company wasn’t “going anywhere” and that he expects to win a legal challenge to block legislation.

Related: Are You Too Old For TikTok?

Banning TikTok isn’t meritless. There are legitimate concerns about how the Chinese government utilizes user data and how the platform’s algorithms shape everything from political discourse to what young and vulnerable viewers see.

Yet despite those concerns, many of the platforms 170 million American users will likely either circumvent the ban using VPN technology or go to other platforms with similar privacy issues. It also could create unintended negative effects that the signers of the bill didn’t consider.

What are young Americans suppose to think when they see a Congress that can’t agree on virtually anything to improve the lives of average working class Americans, but can agree on banning a popular social media platform? This is absurd. It’s also largely counter-productive, seeing as reaching younger voters requires that you go where they are and they are on social media. And despite the bipartisanship of the bill, a TikTok ban would certainly hurt Democrats much more than Republicans, as young people are a key voting bloc.

Regardless of their intent, banning the platform that Gen Z and younger find the most useful in expressing themselves will further entrench the idea that “they (older folks) don’t really care about us.” It only heightens young people's discontent. They feel increasingly isolated, expenses are rising, the cost of education leads to ostensibly life-long debt, and the world is in political turmoil—all within the looming shadow of climate change. Meanwhile the adults in the room do little to change these things. They have to wrestle the mental, physical and spiritual angst of living in a world where their parents, teachers and other authority figures are on one hand asserting that they need to find purpose and craft a life better than what their predecessors had, but on the other, nudging them into the homo economicus existence of modern adulthood that every single adult dreads but seems to keep passing on to the next generation.

The lack of political engagement of young people often leaves us pleading or praying; scratching our head or pulling our hairs out. But it isn’t irrational. In a society with a litany of more pressing issues, it’s not hard to surmise why American youth see the older people in charge (regardless of political party) as old folks who only care when it’s time to ask for votes.

James Baldwin once said—to paraphrase—that you can’t fool young people because despite what you say, they see what you do. In our world where social media saturates all of our lives, the young are looking now more than ever.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of Joshua Adam's work on Medium.