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"Make Me Smart” Newsletter

Hey TikTok, beware the Ides of March

Ellen Rolfes and Catherine Orihuela Mar 15, 2024
Mario Tama/Getty Images

It’s tick-tock for TikTok. The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill Wednesday to require TikTok to separate from its Chinese owner, or face an effective ban. The federal government has been pressuring parent company ByteDance to divest for years, but the RESTRICT Act would set a deadline for action. Here’s the story for far.

Is TikTok a national security risk? American lawmakers say the Chinese Communist Party wields too much control over ByteDance and that China’s government could force it to hand over sensitive data on the 170 million American TikTok users. They’re also concerned Beijing could use the platform to censor ideas and fuel propaganda.

There’s evidence that China’s done both in the past. In 2019, former TikTok employees told The Washington Post that moderators in Beijing regularly censored social and political content in the U.S. In 2021, BuzzFeed reported that ByteDance employees accessed U.S. user data in China, despite the company’s assertions that it was walled off and unavailable. In 2022, ByteDance also launched a covert surveillance campaign on multiple American journalists, accessing the reporters’ private data on the app as it hunted for whistleblowers that had leaked information to the press.

Several countries have already banned TikTok, while others have restricted use of the app on government employees’ work devices. (Congress banned TikTok on federal employees’ work devices in 2022.) Montana passed a law last year that would have banned the app statewide, however a federal judge blocked it from going into effect. He said the legislation seemed driven more by “anti-Chinese sentiment” than a desire to protect consumers as state legislators and public officials argued.

In its defense, ByteDance says it’s already addressed data privacy concerns with its “Project Texas” initiative, giving an American-owned company control over all TikTok data tied to U.S. users. The company also claims that if lawmakers moved forward with a ban, they would be doing so in violation of American users’ free speech rights, a sentiment shared by some lawmakers as well as advocacy groups like the ACLU.

What’s likely to happen next? President Joe Biden said he’d sign the House bill should it make it onto his desk. But for that to happen, the Senate must draft and vote on its own version of the bill. Some senators don’t want to just pass the House’s version and instead want to broaden the scope so that it could both address the national security concerns tied to TikTok and similar potential security threats tied to other companies in the future.

Smart in a shot

A recruitment poster for a police officers shows a group of police officers and the text “Stop playing games and answer the Call of Duty.”

An Illinois police department went viral a few weeks ago for a recruitment ad encouraging gamers to put down their controllers and pick up real weapons.

The Peoria Police Department used images of their own SWAT officers and the logo for the best-selling military shooting franchise Call of Duty. Internal emails obtained and published this week by 404 Media show the officers behind the campaign strategized over how to avoid legal trouble with Call of Duty publisher Activision, but not about the optics of likening police work to violent warfare.

Peoria’s police chief apologized after significant backlash. He said he had hoped the image “would appeal and connect to a younger generation.”

Peoria isn’t the only city struggling to recruit police; law enforcement officers are resigning or retiring at higher rates around the country. The Associated Press reported officer resignations were up 47% in 2022 compared to 2019 and retirements were up 19% during the same period. The city of Austin and the entire state of Louisiana both recently declared states of emergency due to a lack of officers to fill basic functions.

The numbers

TGIF? More like BTIM. It’s March 15, so beware the Ides of March — especially because this day used to be tied to tax season. Let’s do the numbers. 

44 BCE

Roman senators assassinated Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 BCE. One month prior, Caesar had named himself dictator for life. His political rivals, angered by the declaration, plotted to assassinate him at the Senate meeting on that day. 

Caesar’s death was a turning point in Roman history. It marked the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire under his grandnephew and successor Octavian, who later became Caesar Augustus.


William Shakespeare coined “Beware the Ides of March,” which a soothsayer intones to Julius Caesar in Act 1, scene 2 of the eponymous play, first performed in 1599. History tells us that the real-life Caesar did employ a seer named Spurinna, who warned him of impending danger one month before the Ides of March.

The line and date have carried a dark connotation ever since. Many regard March 15 as an unlucky or cursed day — it certainly was for Caesar. But at the very least, it’s a reminder of the dangers posed by absolute power and unchecked ambition.


Ides indicated the first full moon of a given month, which typically fell on either the 13th or 15th. Kalends and Nones were also used as markers to reference lunar dates in the 355-day Roman calendar.

The Ides were important dates for a number of religious and political activities, as well as public ceremonies. Romans also used the Ides of March to settle debts and pay taxes, but this connection was eventually lost due to the misalignment of calendar months and lunar phases.


Tax Day used to be March 1. It moved to March 15 with the Revenue Act of 1918, giving taxpayers more time to file their individual returns.


That’s when the Internal Revenue Service established the current deadline, April 15. The additional month gave taxpayers more time to prepare their returns, and helped the IRS spread out its workload. 

31 days

As of today, most folks have just one month to get their tax returns in or file for an extension. This tax season, the IRS is testing its free Direct File system. The pilot program rolled out in January and is available in a dozen states.

None of us is as smart as all of us

Knights lay down their union arms

Editor Virginia K. Smith is reading a Huffington Post article about why workers are no longer trying to unionize two Medieval Times dinner theater locations. 

Suburban “Queenpin”

Host Kimberly Adams is reading a CNBC story about a woman who organized an elaborate crime ring to steal a fortune’s worth of merchandise and resell it on Amazon. 

Spend a lot to save 

Producer Courtney Bergsieker is reading a Vox article about how billionaires do their taxes and the rules that the superrich live by to owe less money to the federal government.

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