POLITICS

Bill that could ban TikTok passes House, Wash. lawmakers weigh in

Mar 13, 2024, 1:26 PM | Updated: 3:59 pm

Photo: The TikTok app logo, in Tokyo, on Sept. 28, 2020....

The TikTok app logo, in Tokyo, on Sept. 28, 2020. (File photo: Kiichiro Sato, AP)

(File photo: Kiichiro Sato, AP)

A social media app popular for short-form video content once again finds itself in a precarious position. Lawmakers in Washington D.C. moved forward with a bill on Wednesday that could lead to a nationwide TikTok ban.

The House passed legislation that would ban TikTok if its China-based owner ByteDance doesn’t sell its stakes in the platform within six months of the bill’s enactment, according to The Associated Press (AP).

How could the bill potentially ban TikTok?

The legislation essentially gives ByteDance two options: sell TikTok or face a ban.

If ByteDance chooses to divest its stakes, TikTok will continue to operate in the U.S. However, the president would need to determine whether the platform is “no longer being controlled by a foreign adversary.”

The bill would also require ByteDance to give up control of TikTok’s well-known algorithm. Experts told The AP it will be challenging for ByteDance to sell TikTok in a few months.

If the company chooses not to sell, TikTok would be prohibited from app stores and web-hosting services until a divesture occurs, according to the bill.

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President Joe Biden has said he will sign the legislation if lawmakers pass it. It’s unclear what will happen in the Senate, where several bills aimed at banning TikTok have stalled.

Lawmakers from both parties, law enforcement and intelligence officials have expressed concerns that Chinese authorities could force ByteDance to hand over data on the 170 million Americans who use TikTok. The worry stems from a set of Chinese national security laws that compel organizations to assist with intelligence gathering and other far-reaching ways the country’s authoritarian government exercises control.

Washington lawmakers weigh in

Washington U.S. Congresswoman Suzan DelBene weighed in on the issue.

“The debates around issues like TikTok, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and AI make painfully clear to Americans how vulnerable their personal information is for collection, misuse and sale to third parties. The same was true after Roe v. Wade was overturned and people realized their personal health information was vulnerable. Technology has advanced faster than lawmakers can keep up and we are already far behind other countries that are leading the way globally,” DelBene wrote in a news release on Wednesday.

The current Wack-A-Mole approach lawmakers are taking is leaving Americans vulnerable. We need a strong foundational national privacy law so the federal government can both be proactive and respond faster to emerging privacy and security threats. This is how we can put Americans back in control of their personal information,” she continued.

According to The AP, TikTok has denied assertions that it could be used as a tool of the Chinese government. The company said it has never shared U.S. user data with Chinese authorities and won’t do so if it’s asked. The AP also said the U.S. government has not provided any evidence that shows TikTok shared such information with Chinese authorities.

Apart from security concerns, some critics of TikTok posit the app suppresses content unfavorable to Beijing, which TikTok denies. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence also warned in a report on Monday that the Chinese government has used TikTok to influence recent U.S. elections.

“TikTok accounts run by a PRC propaganda arm reportedly targeted candidates from both political parties during the U.S. midterm election cycle in 2022,” the report said.

Rep. Jayapal among those voting against the ban

Washington U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal was among the minority of members who voted against banning TikTok.

“I voted no on this legislation. While I do have serious concerns about the national security implications of the Xi government’s ability to access Americans’ data through ByteDance, at the end of the day, the process of crafting this legislation was overly rushed and lacks important protections for consumers’ data,” Jayapal shared in a statement. “The bill provides an unworkable path to remove TikTok from ownership by a Chinese company, making it a de facto ban. This would harm users who rely on TikTok for their livelihoods, many of whom are people of color.”

We do need to craft legislation that addresses the underlying issues with censorship by ByteDance, algorithm-targeted content at children, and security concerns while preserving constitutionally-protected expression and protecting Americans privacy. I will work to make sure any final bill addresses these critical issues,” she continued.

How are content creators reacting to the latest bill?

If the House bill becomes law, it would be bad news for small businesses who rely on the platform for marketing or selling products on TikTok Shop. It would also impact the lives of social media influencers who have spent years cultivating their following on the platform and rely on it to acquire brand deals or other types of income.

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Many TikTok influencers were flown into Washington this week by the company to participate in a lobbying blitz against the bill. Some said a ban on the app would disrupt their lives and businesses.

What about TikTok users?

TikTok sent a notification to some users last week urging them to call their representatives about the measure, which it characterized as a “TikTok shutdown.”

The company told users Congress was planning a “total ban” on the platform that could “damage millions of businesses, destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country and deny artists an audience.”

On Thursday, many users responded by inundating congressional offices with calls, leading some to shut off their phones.

What happened to the previous attempts made to ban TikTok?

In 2020, former President Donald Trump attempted to ban the social media platform through an executive order. This was later blocked by the courts after TikTok sued.

The Trump administration also brokered a deal in 2020 that would have had U.S. corporations Oracle and Walmart take a large stake in TikTok on national security grounds. But the sale never went through for a number of reasons, one being China, which imposed stricter export controls on its technology providers.

The Biden administration revoked Trump’s executive order but continued a review of the platform by the secretive Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. The White House acknowledged last month that the review remains ongoing.

The social platform censors content: TikTok is banning users who share stories about their weight loss

Other efforts from federal lawmakers to enact nationwide bans were stalled last year. Influencers and small businesses who use the platform lobbied against the ban. The American Civil Liberties Union and some digital rights groups have opposed a TikTok ban on free speech grounds. The ground argued the latest House bill would violate the rights of Americans who rely on the app for information, advocacy and entertainment.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Julia Dallas is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read her stories here. Follow Julia on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email her here.

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