The National Security Council (NSC) of the Philippines has initiated a thorough investigation into TikTok’s compliance with constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership in mass media. Prompted by concerns regarding national security and societal structures, the NSC has formed a task force dedicated to assessing the security implications of TikTok, particularly within the security sector.
By December of this year, the task force aims to complete its probe and ascertain whether a ban on the video-sharing platform is warranted. The focus will be on government officials in the security sector and the devices they utilize. While the NSC has already discouraged the use of TikTok among national security officials, further consideration is being given to the extent of a potential ban, whether it should only apply to individuals in the security sector or if a broader prohibition is necessary due to TikTok’s influence on the general public.
Instances in other countries such as Nepal and India, where TikTok has faced bans due to perceived negative effects on social structures, highlight the global concerns surrounding the platform. In Nepal, the ban was attributed to TikTok’s disruptive impact on social harmony and family foundations.
These developments are notably significant in the Philippines, where TikTok boasts an impressive user base of 43.4 million adults, constituting 39% of the population. Beyond entertainment, a survey commissioned by TikTok has revealed that 91% of Filipinos employ the platform for educational purposes and to stay abreast of the latest trends.
The Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) defines mass media as a communication medium intended to reach and influence large numbers of people. Ownership and management of mass media are restricted by the Philippine Constitution to citizens or entities exclusively owned and managed by citizens, an effort to prevent foreign influence.
Given the characteristics of mass media as defined by the SEC, TikTok appears to fall under this definition by disseminating information to the general public and influencing opinions and lifestyles. Concerns arise due to TikTok’s ownership by ByteDance Philippines Inc., a wholly foreign-owned company, raising doubts about compliance with constitutional requirements.
The Philippine Constitution explicitly prohibits foreign ownership of mass media to safeguard against external entities exerting control over public opinion. TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., further adds complexity to the situation, with allegations of Chinese government involvement.
TikTok’s unique algorithm, which customizes content based on individual user profiles, further complicates matters. As the algorithm has the ability to shape information according to user behaviors, apprehensions have arisen regarding the potential manipulation of content to influence public sentiment.
“The NSC underscores the significance of ensuring that platforms with significant sway over public opinion follow constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership. The investigation will determine whether TikTok’s operations pose a threat to national security and if regulatory actions, including potential bans, are necessary,” stated the NSC.