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This community opinion was contributed by journalist, foreign correspondent Ralph Jennings, who was previously employed by BenitoLink. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors. BenitoLink invites all community members to share their ideas and opinions. By registering as a BenitoLink user in the top right corner of our home page and agreeing to follow our Terms of Use, you can write counter opinions or share your insights on current issues.

China bans its 1.4 billion people from reading Facebook, YouTube and Gmail along with a list of flagship American media websites. The Communist government doesn’t want citizens to get information that could tarnish its image or use the internet to organize mass events.

The United States today does not reciprocate. Americans can freely go to the dot-coms of internet service giants Tencent and Baidu as well as any Chinese news outlet. And those media are packed with daily anti-America content, from Donald Trump’s legal woes to social ills such as mass shootings. Talk about a tarnished image.

Now the U.S government and the leaders of numerous U.S. states are considering whether to declare the Chinese media-sharing app TikTok illegal. Montana’s House of Representatives passed a bill in April to become the first state with a full ban. In California, Orange County has barred its government employees from using, viewing or downloading TikTok. The legislature in Sacramento began debating in January whether to go statewide with a ban.

It’s no secret to any TV viewer that members of the U.S. Congress have grilled TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew about what the app is up to.

TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, is based in Beijing and subject to sometimes strict Chinese government rules that could suddenly obligate the private firm to turn over user data for the state’s review. What happens to that data next no one in America would ever know. So, the ban proponents have a point.

But the United States has a stronger calling, which is to uphold its First Amendment right to free speech, even when it hurts. To block access would violate the rights of about 150 million Americans who use TikTok daily, the American Civil Liberties Union said in March. American users park their videos on TikTok as users do anywhere and have begun to depend on the service to share those media files with people who matter to them.

On the practical side, most TikTok users aren’t using the service to poke at the Communist government, a possible concern in Beijing. App users including government officials could see those posts anyway. Credit card theft? Maybe, but layer after layer of authentication keeps our credit card info pretty well walled off.

Chinese agencies with access to data on those 150 million people would probably do no worse than selling the whole user roster to spammers and they would be latecomers. lists six famous not-so-Chinese data breaches in this 2021 report.

More broadly, the United States looks stronger and more principled to let TikTok carry on unless found legally guilty of a breach and not just suspected outside the judiciary.

Many people outside the U.S., and not just in China, ridicule America for what they call a declining state and a soiled democracy. They point to those mass shootings, bring up the Silicon Valley Bank mess and feel baffled by the purpose of the electoral college.

I’ve had these discussions in China, sometimes with friends over dinner, a lot with my former university students there and occasionally with strangers such as a talkative taxi driver. My ace in the dialogue game is that however grim matters may get in the States, we can still discuss them on any platform without flouting the law.

Americans usually have confidence that the country will hold up despite the beatings it takes on the internet and even that it will improve afterwards. Heads of state, and of states, accept that give-and-take at its core even when they get attacked.

To shutter media outlets purely based on a fear would make it look like that America has lost another piece of its democracy that used to impress the world.