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House Passes Bill to Force ByteDance Divestment of TikTok Or Face Ban


Posted: March 15, 2024 at 4:09 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The U.S. House of Representatives has greenlit a bill compelling ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, to sell its U.S. assets within six months or face a nationwide ban. Passed with a resounding 352-65 vote, this legislation marks a significant move against the popular short-video app, intensifying the longstanding security concerns that have shadowed its operations.

National Security Concern

“This is a critical national security issue. The Senate must take this up and pass it,” emphasized No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise, underscoring the bipartisan unity behind the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has signaled a thorough review in the Senate, though the bill’s fate there remains uncertain, with divergent opinions on the appropriate approach to managing security risks posed by foreign-owned platforms.

The proposed divestment of TikTok’s U.S. operations has elicited contrasting reactions from stakeholders and observers, shaping a discourse with far-reaching implications.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, speaking after the House vote, lamented the potential consequences, warning of an imminent ban and significant economic losses for creators and businesses. However, he affirmed the company’s intent to challenge the legislation through legal channels.

“This legislation, if signed into law, will lead to a ban of TikTok in the United States,” he said in a video posted on the TikTok Policy’s X platform. “Even the bill sponsors admit that that’s their goal. This bill gives more power to a handful of other social media companies,”

“It has given our 170 million users a platform to freely express themselves and it empowered more than 7 million businesses in the United States,” Shou said. “Our platform matters to the small business owners who rely on TikTok to make ends meet and to the teachers who inspire millions of students to learn and to everyone who discovers and finds joy on TikTok.”

The bill’s proponents cite heightened national security concerns, particularly regarding data privacy and potential Chinese government influence. Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, posed critical questions about ownership and data localization, emphasizing the need for rigorous safeguards.

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, who chairs a House select committee on China, rejected that the bill is an outright ban of the app.

“It’s not a ban,” he said. “It puts the choice squarely in the hands of TikTok to sever their relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. As long as ByteDance no longer owns the company, TikTok can continue to survive … the basic ownership structure has to change.”

Pushback from Democrats

Nevertheless, the bill has encountered notable opposition from within the Democratic ranks. Key figures like House Democratic Whip Kathleen Clark and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez raised concerns about antitrust issues and privacy implications, underscoring the nuanced debate surrounding the legislation.

“There are serious antitrust and privacy questions here, and any national security concerns should be laid out to the public prior to a vote,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

China described described a potential TikTok ban as “an act of bullying” that would backfire on America.

“Even though the US has not found evidence on how TikTok endangers its national security, it has never stopped going after TikTok,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the ministry, told CNN Wednesday at a news conference in Beijing.

“This will eventually backfire on the US itself,” he said claiming such practice would disrupt market operations, undermine investor confidence and sabotage the global economic order.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell has underscored the importance of crafting legislation that can withstand legal scrutiny, hinting at a deliberative approach in the Senate. Such considerations reflect the complexity of the issue and the need for a balanced response to address security risks while upholding constitutional rights.

The looming prospect of a TikTok ban has galvanized users and industry stakeholders, prompting rallies and advocacy efforts. Concerns about potential job losses and disruptions to online communities underscore the broader socio-economic impact of the proposed measures.

Several dozen TikTok users rallied outside the Capitol before the vote. The company paid for their travel to Washington and their accommodation.

The group included Mona Swain, 23, who said she is a full-time content creator which is helping her pay her mother’s mortgage and for her brother and sister’s college educations with her earnings from the app.

“It’s gonna put a lot of people out of work, which is the scariest part,” Swain said of the bill.

While the bill’s passage marks a significant milestone in Washington’s efforts to address security threats posed by foreign-owned platforms, uncertainties loom over its implementation and potential legal challenges. As the debate unfolds, policymakers face the formidable task of balancing security imperatives with the preservation of digital rights and economic interests.

The House bill’s journey through the Senate promises to be a defining moment in the ongoing battle to secure America’s digital landscape, with ramifications that extend far beyond the realm of social media.

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