Bipartisan House Vote Advances Bill Targeting TikTok, Senate Vote Looms

Tiktok logo | Source: NPR

On March 13, 2024, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill aimed at either banning the social media app TikTok or compelling its sale.

The bipartisan House vote was 352-65. 50 Democrats and 15 Republicans voted against the bill. 

However, the bill’s passage in the House marks only the initial step. For it to become law, the Senate must also approve it, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) expressing the need for deliberation and consultation with relevant committee chairs.

The bill as it stands today mandates that ByteDance Ltd, the Chinese company of which TikTok is a subsidiary of, must disentangle itself from TikTok. Failure to comply would render the app’s presence on app stores unlawful, despite its massive user base of around 170 million Americans.

Many representatives in the House worry that ByteDance, being a Chinese company, could be forced to provide data of TikTok consumers to the Chinese government. An existing set of Chinese national security laws compels private organizations to assist in intelligence gathering. TikTok has repeatedly refuted accusations of being influenced by the Chinese government, maintaining that it has never provided American user data to Chinese authorities and that it won’t in the future, even if asked to do so. 

Opponents of the bill express concerns about its potential impact on small businesses, citing TikTok’s growing popularity as a platform for cost-effective and expansive marketing campaigns. Around 30 TikTok influencers, accompanied by supporters, voiced their opposition to the bill on Capitol Hill during the House session. They rallied with chants advocating to “Keep TikTok” and held up signs that read “TikTok changed my life for the better” and “TikTok helped me grow my business.”

Ahead of the vote, China criticized Washington’s resort to political measures when faced with competition, warning of disruptions to normal business operations and undermining investor confidence.

“This kind of bullying behavior that cannot win in fair competition disrupts companies’ normal business activity, damages the confidence of international investors in the investment environment, and damages the normal international economic and trade order,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said.

Last week, TikTok distributed a message to many of its American users, calling on them to call their representatives to prevent the government from stripping “170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free speech.” In response, the House China Select Committee issued a letter instructing the company to stop “spreading false claims in its campaign to manipulate and mobilize American citizens on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.”

While much of the online discourse labeled this bill as a TikTok ban, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, the chair of a House select committee on China, doesn’t call this a TikTok ban. 

“It puts the choice squarely in the hands of TikTok to sever their relationship with the Chinese Communist Party,” he said. “ As long as ByteDance no longer owns the company, TikTok can continue to survive … the basic ownership structure has to change.” 

Former President Donald Trump has expressed his opposition to the House bill, despite previous efforts during his administration to ban the app. Conversely, former Vice President Mike Pence has encouraged Schumer to move forward with the legislation, citing apprehensions regarding Chinese espionage and advocating for the sale of TikTok to a non-foreign adversary company for the welfare of the American people.

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