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TikTok, National Security, and Freedom of Speech

Essential Question:  

Is forcing the sale of TikTok for national security purposes a violation of freedom of speech?

Guiding Questions: 

  • Does foreign ownership of TikTok pose a threat to the national security of the United States?
  • What is the First Amendment argument against the forced sale of TikTok?


  • Students will analyze the debate over whether Congress should force a sale of TikTok 
  • Students will assess the constitutionality of the government forcing a social media company to sell or be shut down 


Handout A: First Amendment 

Handout B: US wants to ban TikTok, but First Amendment demands stronger case on national security 

Handout C: TikTok’s Conduct Isn’t Free Speech 

Handout D: TikTok, National Security, and Freedom of Speech Graphic Organizer 

Handout E: TikTok, National Security, and Freedom of Speech Reflection Activity 

Handout F: TikTok, National Security, and Freedom of Speech Answer Key 


The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would force ByteDance to sell TikTok to a buyer that is approved the U.S. government, or it will become unlawful for app stores to distribute or update the app. The bill still faces the hurdle of needing to pass through the Senate, but President Biden has signaled that he will sign it into law should it do so. The bill is a result of concern in the United States over the growing power of China and the geopolitical threat it poses. The bill had considerable bipartisan support in the House, but some have criticized it as a threat to freedom of speech. 


Have students read the First Amendment. Discuss the meaning of freedom of speech and its importance in our society, along with potential limits that are justifiable in the name of security. 


Have students read the two opinion articles and fill out the graphic organizer.  

Assess and Reflect 

To finish the activity, have students split up into groups. They should argue one side of the debate over whether Congress passing legislation to force TikTok to be sold or be shut down violates the First Amendment and then alternate so that everyone gets to argue both sides.  

Use the TikTok, National Security, and Freedom of Speech Reflection Activity to guide the discussion. After students have debated, have them reflect on the topic and write a paragraph response to the following questions: Do you believe that TikTok currently is a national security threat? Do you believe that Congress can constitutionally force TikTok to be sold or face being shut down?  


If you have time, include an extension to the Assess and Reflect paragraph response. ByteDance has branded this as a bill that would ban the app and encouraged its users to act and reach out to their representatives to express opposition to it. TikTok would likely continue to exist if ByteDance were forced to sell, but just under a different owner. Have students consider the following questions: Why do you think ByteDance would have framed the bill as a ban? Do you think they are right to do so? How might those in favor of the bill respond? 


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