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TikTok's Tug-O-War and the U.S. Movement to Ban the App

The House of Representatives approved a bill last week that would ban TikTok in the U.S., unless its Chinese-based parent company shuts down and sells its U.S. operations within six months. It comes after long-standing concerns that China could gain access to personal information from Americans who use the app. 

That bill now goes to the Senate, where it faces a lot of challenges and no quick action. Previous efforts have stalled among senators, some of whom fear the repercussions that such a band would have on more than 5 million U.S. businesses that use the app for expansion and increased visibility..

The bill also faces a flood of backlash from TikTok's American users, as well as criticism from lawmakers who say it runs afoul of the First Amendment. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says the problem isn’t with TikTok or its videos, but with “the algorithm that powers it that’s controlled by a company in China that must do whatever the Chinese Communist Party tells them to do.”

The White House wants the Senate to move quickly on the legislation, with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying it needs to be  "on the strongest possible legal footing."

China responded back, saying the U.S. should respect the principles of a market economy and fair competition, and adding the nation would “take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its legitimate rights and interests.”

A federal judge blocked a Montana state ban on TikTok in November over concerns it infringed on First Amendment speech rights. The ban proposal comes on the heels of TikTok's worst quarter for annual user growth in company history. There is opposition, however. With more than 170 million TikTok users in the United States, a coalition of younger House lawmakers have voiced their concern about the bill. Fifty Democrats voted in opposition to the bill in the House.

The bill gives TikTok 180 days to splinter from ByteDance and will make it unlawful for any American app store or web hosting company to distribute or maintain platforms controlled by designated U.S. foreign adversaries.

The social media platform, 100% owned by ByteDance, has long been in the crosshairs of federal and state lawmakers, whom intelligence officials have warned of the possibility of China’s government accessing Americans’ data via the app.

Lawmakers passed legislation in December 2022 banning the app from most federal employee devices. The Montana Legislature banned the app last year, but the law remains tied up in court. Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2020 banning TikTok unless it broke from ByteDance. Last week Trump reversed his position on the platform, telling CNBC that “without TikTok you’re going to make Facebook bigger.”

Wednesday’s passage of the bill represents a rare departure for House Republicans from Trump, the party’s front-runner in the 2024 general election.

Meanwhile, the TikTok sphere actively reports on its users and influencers. Last week, Leah Smith, a major TikTok influencer who has been battling stage 4 cancer, died at the age of 22. The internet personality documented her cancer journey to over half a million followers on social media after being diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a type of cancer that occurs primarily in the bone or soft tissue. It can also metastasize to other areas of the body, according to John Hopkins Medicine.

So what’s next? If the bill makes it through the Senate, it has a good chance of becoming law. President Biden has thrown his support behind it, even as his campaign uses the app to reach voters. And one surprising supporter in North Carolina Congressman Jeff Jackson, who is an active TikTok user with more than 2.5. million followers but voted in favor of the ban. He thinks the platform will continue to operate, albeit with a new owner in the future.


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