Congress gets closer to forcing TikTok to be sold or face US ban: What’s next

Congress gets closer to forcing TikTok to be sold or face US ban: What’s next
Congress gets closer to forcing TikTok to be sold or face US ban: What’s next

The $95 billion foreign aid package that passed the House on Saturday included legislation to force a sale of TikTok by its Chinese parent company, ByteDance.

If the measure becomes law and if that sale then doesn’t occur within a year, the app would be banned in the US amid widespread data-sharing and foreign influence fears — which TikTok says are baseless.

So, what’s next for the push to divest or ban the hugely popular social media platform in the US?

The future in the Senate and beyond

The Senate plans to take up the foreign aid package next week, starting Tuesday, putting it on track for final passage by midweek.

The campaign to force TikTok to be criticized or be banned has earned broad bipartisan support, with lawmakers echoing concerns that TikTok could harvest Americans’ user data for Beijing — or be used as a vehicle to spread Chinese propaganda.

House Speaker Mike Johnson hailed an earlier version of the sell-or-ban bill that passed the House in March, saying it “demonstrates Congress’ opposition to Communist China’s attempts to spy on and manipulate Americans, and signals our resolve to deter our enemies. “

Some supporters of divestment also note that China already restricts hugely popular American platforms like YouTube in their country.

TikTok has defended its data management at length, saying US user traffic flows through a third party within the US, along with additional oversight protections.

ByteDance is “not owned or controlled by any government or state entity,” TikTok says, although skeptics believe ByteDance could hypothetically be forced under Chinese law to comply with the government there.

While there are some critics on Capitol Hill of the push against TikTok, the divestment-or-ban legislation continues to gain steam, and the White House said President Joe Biden would sign the earlier version of the bill.

High-profile Democrats like Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell of Washington have now signaled support for the TikTok provision, too.

Cantwell was an obstacle to the House’s previous bill to force a sale or ban of TikTok, which passed in March and then stalled in the Senate. But she’s since come around, saying last week that House Republicans earned her support by amending their legislation to extend the deadline for when ByteDance would be required to sell the app from six months to a year after the law were to go into effect.

The TikTok measure could still be stripped out of the foreign aid legislation in the Senate, but that would require the entire package to be sent back to the House for another vote — at the same time that legislators on both sides of the aisle have stressed urgency for acting on the additional money for Ukraine and Israel.

The app is working to “educate legislators,” a source told ABC News. The company has mounted aggressive efforts to sway politicians to their position, but it’s unclear what their strategy is now.

In a statement, TikTok slammed the renewed efforts behind divestment. “It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the US economy, annually,” the platform said.

TikTok would likely sue to block the divestment legislation from going into effect at the end of the one-year sale window.

Rep. Ro Khanna, a progressive Democrat from California, didn’t support the legislation in the House and predicted Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week” that “I don’t think it’s going to pass First Amendment scrutiny [by the courts] because I think there are less restrictive alternatives.”

What would China do?

In March, China’s Commerce Minister Wang Wentao indicated officials would seek to block any transfer of the app’s technology, saying the country would “firmly oppose” a forced sale.

Of perhaps the greatest concern is the app’s algorithm, seen as essential to its popularity in surfacing viral video content.

Users are already familiar with the algorithm’s success, even if they don’t realize that’s what allows the app to feed users a never-ending stream of videos related to their interests. Selling TikTok without that technology would be like selling a car without an engine.

What are TikTokers saying?

Many TikTokers say they oppose the legislation, which could upend their digital media careers and businesses, and they are making their voices heard. A group of about 50 held a demonstration in front of the Capitol while the House voted on the package on Saturday.

A group of 30-plus creators also recently signed an open letter to President Joe Biden warning him that taking action against the app would be a “serious error” that could be “alienating young voters” in this election year.

Another group of TikTok creators are planning to rally outside the Capitol on Tuesday.

 
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