Congress Takes Action Against TikTok 

On March 13, the House of Representatives passed with broad bipartisan support the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” (352-65-1). The legislation directly calls for TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to divest TikTok or the US will ban the social media app. While no immediate action is expected from the US Senate, the upper chamber is more divided ahead of a yet-to-be scheduled vote, and legal challenges from TikTok are expected in the upcoming weeks and months as the saga continues. 

TikTok and its many young supporters have been active on Capitol Hill, pushing back on this bipartisan effort. The situation around a potential TikTok ban holds major implications for the wider debate on social media platforms and the 2024 US elections.


What does the bill actually say and why?

The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act (HR 7521) prohibits any “foreign adversary-controlled applications” in the US from being maintained, distributed, or updated, and levees a heavy penalty for applications found in violation.  

  • The bill is targeted directly at TikTok, specifically defining a “foreign adversary-controlled application” as a technology that is “operated directly or indirectly” by “ByteDance, Ltd.” or “TikTok,” among additional definitions.  
  • Upon passage, ByteDance would have 180 days to divest its stake in TikTok to ensure the app can continue to be used in the United States, otherwise the federal government will ban US servers and app stores from hosting the app.  

Supporters of the legislation say Chinese ownership threatens national security. There are concerns that the Chinese government can access personal data of Americans through TikTok and that the app can be used to spread anti-American propaganda. In recent years, Chinese law has required companies in the country to “support, assist, and cooperate with the state intelligence work,” including the disclosure of personal data of users. Members of Congress have also loudly complained that TikTok is favoring content that is anti-Israel and sympathetic to Palestine.

  • While security hawks are deeply concerned about making any data available that Chinese intelligence might exploit, support for the ban also comes from policymakers of both parties concerned about its effect on young people, particularly the app’s effects on mental health, safety, and screen addiction issues.
  • TikTok has insisted that the fear around national security has no validity. The company has emphasized that it is primarily owned by global institutional investors, with a majority of the board being American, and it has an ongoing initiative to have sensitive US user data on domestic servers. 


What will legislation look like in the Senate? 

The legislation faces uncertainty in the US Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has not committed to passage of the bill and says he’s consulting “with relevant committee chairs to determine the bill’s path.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has pushed for an open amendment process that will likely change the bill’s language from the draft approved by the House, which would force the bill to go to a conference committee to be reconciled and then passed.

  • Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) released a joint statement that they would work in a bipartisan manner to get the House bill through the Senate and onto President Biden’s desk.
  • President Biden has expressed his support for the bill, pledging to sign it if it comes to his desk in its current form. However, former President Donald Trump, who tried to ban TikTok while he was in office, has now reversed his stance, saying that a ban would primarily help Facebook’s parent company Meta in the US market. 


A ban’s impact and the 2024 election season

This year we have seen the 2024 presidential election impact what legislation Congress is considering. A bipartisan bill around immigration was tanked because former President Trump felt the status quo would favor him in an election season.

  • Donald Trump’s resistance to a TikTok ban makes it likely that those who are for taking action against ByteDance might reconsider their position, especially Republicans. We’ve already seen the former president shape immigration policy based on his campaign rhetoric.
  • Increased tensions with China. China has been a lingering issue in the 2024 campaign cycle and a potential TikTok 2024 ban has the potential to continue to drive tensions even higher. From a campaign standpoint, both candidates face pressure to be tough on China and a ban is one way to demonstrate that aggressiveness.  
  • Young voter backlash. TikTok brings with it a young base: almost half of TikTok’s 170 million users are under 30, a key base for young voters in 2024. Even President Biden leverages TikTok for his presidential campaign to connect with younger voters. His account @BidenHQ that sports a photo of Dark Brandon as the profile picture, has garnered over 1.8 million views. If ByteDance refuses to divest, political campaigns may need to revisit how they are targeting young voters. A ban could sour young voters during a critical time for engagement, even if the ban comes into effect after the election.
  • Loss of a valuable communications channel. President Biden leverages TikTok for his presidential campaign in an effort to connect with younger voters. His account @BidenHQ that sports a photo of Dark Brandon as the profile picture, has garnered over 1.8 million views so far. If ByteDance refuses to divest, and TikTok is banned in the US, political campaigns will have to find other ways to gain the attention of voters throughout the 2024 campaign cycle that could potentially be more costly and ineffective. 


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