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  • Lauren Albano

TikTok ban bill commended and condemned after passing in House

Courtesy of NBC News


The House of Representatives passed a bill on March 13, 2024 that could lead to a ban on the platform in the United States. The bill received bipartisan support from House legislators wary of the app’s foreign ownership, but it also became the subject of public scrutiny over free speech issues.


The bill is called the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” and it would give ByteDance, the Chinese-based company that owns TikTok, six months to sell the platform to an American buyer. If the company cannot sell the app in time, it would be effectively banned in the U.S.


According to the New York Times, President Joe Biden had previously announced limitations on how the U.S. can invest in Chinese companies and restricted the sale of American user data to brokers who could sell it to China.


“Do we want TikTok, as a platform, to be owned by an American company or owned by China?” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on March 12. “Do we want the data from TikTok — children’s data, adults’ data — to be going, to be staying here in America or going to China?”


The bill passed in the House in a largely bipartisan vote of 352 to 65 following limited debate on the floor. TikTok had been at risk of being banned before, notably in 2020, when former President Donald Trump attempted to ban the platform using an executive order, but the order was blocked after the company sued.


Many supporters of the bill share concerns about TikTok’s Chinese ownership, citing potential national security risks.


“[The approval of the bill is] an important bipartisan measure to take on China, our largest geopolitical foe, which is actively undermining our economy and security,” Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) said.


Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) suggested before the vote that the bill “forces TikTok to break up with the Chinese Communist Party.” He co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL).


“This is a common-sense measure to protect our national security,” Gallagher said.


Some lawmakers have voiced concerns about the lack of proof that Beijing has used TikTok to obtain American user data or influence Americans’ views, which TikTok affirmed. 


Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL) said the legislation was “a hell no” for him and an infringement on First Amendment rights. The first member of Generation Z to be elected to Congress, Frost spoke on March 12 about how TikTok made the younger demographic more politically informed and active.


“I hear from students all the time that get their information, the truth of what has happened in this country, from content creators on TikTok,” Frost recounted.


Some members of Congress use TikTok to connect with their constituents. They have different views on the bill.


Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) posted a TikTok video reporting that he voted “no” on the ban because, while he has some concerns about the app, he believes that it’s “un-American” to ban free speech. 


“I do have issues with how TikTok is controlled, but at the same time it’s very weird for me as an American to ban other Americans from any platform that gives speech, whether I agree with the speech or not,” Gallego said.


Rep. Jeff Jackson (D-NC) voted “yes” on the bill. The freshman congressman had gained over two million followers on the platform posting “no-nonsense” videos discussing his thoughts on being a member of Congress as well as recent political events. 


“If I were in your shoes, I would probably feel the same way,” Jackson said in a TikTok video posted on March 16. “I would see someone who used this app to build a following and appears to have voted against it, and I would be upset.”


Jackson said he thought TikTok would be better if it weren’t under Chinese ownership after being a part of “genuinely alarming” briefings. Jackson lost 200,000 followers after his vote and was criticized as a “hypocrite.” 


TikTok spokesman Alex Haurek said in a statement that the House “process was a secret and the bill was jammed through for one reason: It’s a ban,” according to the New York Times.


“We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy — seven million small businesses — and the 170 million Americans who use our service,” Haurek said.


Before the vote, TikTok sent users a message asking them to call their representatives and urge them to resist the “TikTok shutdown.” It said Congress was planning a “total ban” on TikTok that could “damage millions of businesses, destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country, and deny artists an audience,” according to the Associated Press.


“We will not stop fighting and advocating for you,” TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said in a video posted on March 13 after the House approved the bill. “We will continue to do all we can, including exercising our legal rights, to protect this amazing platform that we have built with you.”


TikTok users listened to the message, according to posts from congressional staff members on X, who reported that the phone lines of many representatives were flooded with calls. However, some users said they were unable to use the app before calling, which caused speculation regarding the company’s interference.


TikTok users also criticized the bill by posting on the platform itself. TikTok is home to approximately 170 million American users and over seven million small businesses.


V. Spehar, a creator known as “Under The Desk News” on TikTok, expressed his theory that antitrust laws could prevent American social media companies from purchasing the platform. They said this could give ByteDance too little time to find and transfer data to a buyer and most likely increase the risk of a ban.


“If they can’t [sell TikTok] in that timeline, then they wouldn’t have access to the app anymore to update it, so Congress is effectively banning the app by breaking it,” Spehar said in a video. 


Brandon Hurst, a plant shop owner and TikTok creator, said the app helped boost his sales. He said representatives “don’t understand that what they’re doing won’t just harm people they call ‘content creators.’ It would hurt small businesses.”


The American Civil Liberties Union and some digital rights groups expressed opposition to the TikTok ban due to issues with free speech. They argued that the bill would violate the rights of Americans who use TikTok for information, advocacy, and entertainment, according to the Associated Press.


“Just because the bill sponsors claim that banning TikTok isn’t about suppressing speech, there’s no denying that it would do just that,” Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at the ACLU, said in a statement. 


Despite his efforts to ban the platform during his presidency, Trump said on March 11 that he is opposed to banning TikTok because it would help its rival, Facebook, which he blames for his 2020 election loss. Still, Trump retained his position that the company posed a national security risk. 


The bill still needs to pass in the Senate, where Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has been noncommittal about bringing it to the floor for a vote. President Biden said he would sign the bill if it got to his desk 


Even if the bill becomes law, it may still face legal challenges: TikTok and its users could mount a First Amendment challenge that may go all the way to the Supreme Court.


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