TikTok ban passes House

Alan Cai

March 15, 2024

In a nation divided as it is now, it is exceedingly difficult to pass bills with bipartisan support. Congress has shown earlier today that sweeping bipartisan legislation is still possible by passing legislation 352-65 in favor of a bill that would force parent company Bytedance to divest (sell) its largest subsidiary, TikTok within 165 days or face a nationwide ban. In the House, Speaker Mike Johnson and former speaker Nancy Pelosi both backed the bill, allowing for widespread support. American lawmakers are concerned about TikTok being a national security threat due to its ties to the People's Republic of China.

The bill now advances to the Senate, where it is expected to reach some additional roadblocks and challenges. Senate Majority Leader Charles “Chuck” Schumer has yet to lay out an agenda for the bill’s passing and prominent Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has already expressed disapproval of the bill, arguing that it will inhibit free speech.

President Biden indicated earlier this year that he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk and force ByteDance to sell its service within 180 days. Were the Senate to pass the bill, it would reach a joint committee to hammer out the differences (likely including the time span) before allowing the bill to reach Biden.

Former President and presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald Trump has previously supported banning TikTok, even attempting to do so himself via executive order in August 2020 but was blocked by several judges who asserted that doing so was beyond his authority. However, he has recently walked back his support for a ban, stating that although TikTok may have certain security issues, banning it would give outsized power to Facebook and its parent company Meta, which Trump has long feuded with.

TikTok boasts an impressive American user base, with an estimated 148-180 million American users—by far the greatest user base out of any other country in the world. ByteDance, despite being a Chinese-based company, is reportedly 60% owned by foreign investors and stores all US user information in the United States. TikTok has repeatedly alleged that it has never received any requests from the Chinese government to divulge data from American users and will not provide such information if asked. This statement is slightly dubious considering Beijing’s iron grip on its companies and the company’s inherent interest in continuing good relations with Xi. Additionally, assuming US-based companies comply with court and legislative subpoenas, it would be quite strange for ByteDance to not do the same for its own parent country.

TikTok has recently launched a push notification campaign asking its users to call their congressional representatives urging them to vote against the ban. Numerous congressional offices have subsequently reported an influx of calls, many from children.

In the wake of the tumultuous time for the Chinese tech giant, former Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin has announced that he is organizing a group of investors to buy TikTok were the bill to pass into law.