House Passes Bill To Force TikTok Sale Or Face Being Banned In U.S.

House lawmakers overwhelmingly passed legislation today that would force the parent company of TikTok to divest the popular app or face a ban on U.S. platforms.

The legislation passed 352-65, easily clearing the 2/3 threshold needed.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where the company has been lobbying heavily and the next steps for the legislation are uncertain. Past efforts to restrict TikTok have stalled in the upper chamber.

Under the legislation, ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, would be forced to sell the social media platform within about five months or face having it banned on app stores or web hosting services. The bill, called the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, is aimed at social media apps controlled by a foreign adversary.

President Joe Biden has said that he would sign the legislation if it passed Congress; Donald Trump, who initiated efforts to restrict TikTok when he was president, is now warning against the move.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) railed against the bill, saying that it would give too much power to the president to decide which apps Americans see, and that it could be abused. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) said that the bill would give the government a “coercive power that can be applied to others.”

“It’s opening a Pandora’s box,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).

Also warning against the bill was a member on the other side of the political spectrum, Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL), at 27 the youngest member of Congress. He said that the bill would infringe on First Amendment rights and violate the Constitution.

But the legislation drew widespread bipartisan support.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said that the legislation is needed because of the threat that Americans data would be scooped up by a foreign adversary.

“Beijing China should not have the control over Americans that TikTok gives them,” he said. He also said that the legislation’s restrictions would not be unprecedented, noting that foreign entities cannot hold controlling ownership of broadcast stations.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), one of the bill’s authors who chairs the House select committee on China, noted that the text of the legislation “takes no position at all on the content of speech at all on the content of speech, only foreign adversary control…of what is becoming the dominant news platform for Americans under 30. This is a common sense measure to protect our national security.”

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), the ranking member of the China committee, said that the forced divestiture of a company also would not be unprecedented. He cited the case of Grindr, a popular LGBTQ app, which was acquired by a Chinese company. “The United States government determined that sensitive data of LGBTQ members of the military and U.S. government officials and the Chinese Communist party, they required divestment. This happened quickly. Why? Because Grindr was a very valuable social media company.”

Other champions of the legislation warn that without it, China can run a disinformation campaign, fueled by the TikTok algorithm.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) addressed one of the concerns raised by Trump: That a forced divestiture of TikTok or a ban would boost rival Facebook. “The primary counter arguments to this bill seem to be as shallow as, ‘Well, it doesn’t do everything I want, and Facebook is really mean. And I don’t want them to make money. So what, then that means you owe Chinese access to all of our data and access to manipulate the minds of Americans? I don’t think so.”

Some lawmakers have warned that a TikTok ban could have an impact on the 2024 election, with a backlash from its young user base. That’s why there reportedly has been some discussion that the Senate would push consideration of the legislation until after the election.

TikTok itself has been heavily lobbying members of Congress. Last week, it sent notifications to users asking them to call their members of Congress. But members of the House Energy & Commerce committee chided the company for such a tactic, saying that it amounted to an effort to intimidate them and their staffs. Despite the lobbying, the bill passed out of the committee unanimously.

Under the terms of the bill, if TikTok is not divested, app stores and web hosting services could face civil penalties if they continue to host the social media app.

TikTok has denied that it gives Americans’ user data to the Chinese government, but the bill’s supporters say that a law in that country could force them to do so.

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