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As TikTok Faces a Possible Ban, Here's How it Restricts Freedom of Expression Among Employees

TikTok faces backlash as it enforces stringent policies amidst heightened national security concerns and political scrutiny.
Cover Image Source: TikTok's RSU forfeiture policy sparks controversy | Getty Images | Photo by Drew Angerer
Cover Image Source: TikTok's RSU forfeiture policy sparks controversy | Getty Images | Photo by Drew Angerer

TikTok has evolved into a popular social media platform where people can express their opinions and have open discussions about every aspect of life from politics to finance. Recently TikTok users also came out in support of the platform when a bill that could pave the way for a ban on it was passed in the US. But while others defend it as a space for free speech and expression, TikTok has enacted a strict policy that bars both current and former employees from criticizing the platform. It has explicitly stated that negative comments about the company, its affiliates, or fellow employees could lead to the forfeiture of restricted stock units (RSUs), a key component of the compensation structure.

Unsplash | Photo by Solen Feyissa
Image Source: Unsplash | Photo by Solen Feyissa

As reported by Fortune, TikTok's shareholder agreement outlines the provision, indicating that RSU holders are explicitly prohibited from making "critical, adverse, or disparaging" remarks about the company. Violating this clause, the agreement specifies, could result in the immediate forfeiture of all restricted share units held by the employee.

The policy gained public attention when Patrick Spaulding Ryan, a former employee, raised concerns about the disparagement clause on his LinkedIn profile. He revealed that he was excluded from TikTok's recent buyback offer for both current and former employees, leading him to believe that he is now a target for the company.

Former President Donald Trump | Getty Images | Photo by Drew Angerer
Image Source: Former President Donald Trump | Getty Images | Photo by Drew Angerer

This development comes at a time when TikTok faces increased scrutiny, particularly in the United States. Former President Donald Trump has labeled the Chinese social media app a national security threat, but at the same time, he acknowledged the potential negative consequences of banning it, including potential benefits to competitors like Facebook.

The backdrop of this statement coincides with U.S. lawmakers considering a bill that would compel TikTok's Chinese owner, ByteDance, to divest the app within six months. The app, widely used by almost 170 million Americans, has become a focal point of discussions regarding its ownership and potential risks.

"I'm not looking to make Facebook double the size. And if you ban TikTok, (then) Facebook and others, but mostly Facebook, will be a big beneficiary. And I think Facebook has been very dishonest," remarked Trump.

 In this photo illustration the logo of Chinese media app for creating and sharing short videos TikTok, also known as Douyin is displayed on the screen of a smartphone on September 18, 2020 in Paris, France. The United States on Friday announced a ban on downloading TikTok and WeChat apps, which are very popular with young people, from Sunday, with the two Chinese apps facing accusations of spying for the benefit of China.|Getty Images|Photo by Chesnot
Image Source: TikTok | Getty Images | Photo by Chesnot

TikTok, in response to concerns about data security, has assured the U.S. Congress that it is not under the control of the Chinese government. "There is no truth to the claim that TikTok has made U.S. user data available to the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese Communist Party has neither direct nor indirect control of ByteDance or TikTok," the company said in a statement.

Recent intelligence reports have raised alarms, suggesting that TikTok accounts associated with a Chinese propaganda arm targeted candidates from both political parties during the 2022 U.S. midterm elections.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew Testifies | Getty Images | Photo by Chip Somodevilla
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew Testifies | Getty Images | Photo by Chip Somodevilla

As TikTok encounters growing scrutiny and regulatory pressures, the decision to implement strict policies regarding employee criticism reflects the challenges the platform faces in maintaining trust and credibility.

"We welcome the opportunity to set the record straight about TikTok, ByteDance, and the commitments we are making to address concerns about U.S. national security before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. By sharing details of our comprehensive plans with the full committee, Congress can take a more deliberative approach to the issues at hand," a spokesperson said.