Lower house approves a possible ban on TikTok in the US, but the app will not disappear anytime soon

Lower house approves a possible ban on TikTok in the US, but the app will not disappear anytime soon

The House of Representatives on Saturday passed a bill that would ban TikTok in the United States if the Chinese company that owns the popular social media platform doesn't sell its stake within a year, but don't expect it. the app will disappear soon.

House Republicans' decision to include TikTok as part of a broader foreign aid package, a priority for President Joe Biden with strong congressional support for Ukraine and Israel, accelerated the ban after an earlier version stalled in the Senate.

The House of Representatives approved by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in March a standalone bill with a shorter six-month sales deadline, as both Democrats and Republicans expressed national security concerns about the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd., which owns the app.

The modified measure, approved by 360 votes in favor and 58 against, now goes to the Senate after negotiations that extended the period for the company to sell the app to nine months, with the possibility of an additional three months if the sale is underway. .

Legal challenges could further extend that deadline. The company has indicated that if the law is passed, it will likely go to court to try to block it, claiming it would deprive millions of the app's users of their First Amendment rights.

TikTok has lobbied hard against the law, prompting the app's 170 million U.S. users — many of whom are young — to call Congress and voice their opposition. However, the virulence of the reaction infuriated lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where there is widespread concern about Chinese threats to the United States and where few members use the platform.

“We will not stop fighting and advocating for you,” TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said in a video posted on the platform last month and addressed to the app's users. “We will continue to do everything we can, including exercising our legal rights, to protect this incredible platform we have built with you.”

The rapid processing of the bill in Congress is extraordinary because it is directed at a single company and because Congress has not intervened in technology regulation for decades. Lawmakers had failed to take action despite efforts to protect children online, safeguard user privacy and hold companies more accountable for the content posted on their platforms, among other things. But the TikTok ban reflects lawmakers' widespread concern about China.

Members of both parties, along with intelligence officials, have expressed concern that Chinese authorities could force ByteDance to hand over data on American users or instruct the company to remove or boost TikTok content that suits their interests. interests. TikTok has denied claims that it could be used as a tool of the Chinese government and has said it has not shared US user data with Chinese authorities.

The US government has not publicly presented evidence showing that TikTok shared US user data with the Chinese government or that it manipulated the company's popular algorithm, which influences what Americans see on the platform.

The company has good reason to think a challenge could be successful, after some good results in previous legal disputes over its US operations. In November, a federal judge blocked a Montana law that would ban TikTok statewide after the company and five content creators sued against the measure.

In 2020, federal courts blocked then-President Donald Trump's executive order banning TikTok after the company sued, arguing that the order violated free speech and due process rights. His government negotiated a deal under which US companies Oracle and Walmart would acquire a large stake in TikTok. The sale never came to fruition for several reasons; one of them was China, which imposed stricter export controls on its technology suppliers.

Dozens of states and the federal government have banned the use of TikTok on official devices. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a challenge last year to the ban in Texas, arguing in a lawsuit that the policy impeded academic freedom because it extended to public universities. In December, a federal judge ruled in favor of the state.

Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have endorsed the app. “Congress cannot disenfranchise the more than 170 million Americans who use TikTok to express themselves, engage in political activism, and access information from around the world,” said Jenna Leventoff, an attorney for the group.

Since mid-March, TikTok has spent $5 million on television ads speaking out against the law, according to AdImpact, an ad tracking company. The guidelines have included a number of content creators, including a nun, who extol the platform's positive effects on their lives and argue that a ban would trample on the First Amendment. The company has also encouraged its users to contact Congress, and some lawmakers have received insult-laden calls.

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is hiding behind important foreign and humanitarian aid to once again pass a prohibition bill that would trample on the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate seven million businesses and close a platform that contributes $24 billion annually to the United States economy,” stated Alex Haurek, company spokesperson.

California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna voted against the initiative. In his opinion, there could be less restrictive ways to go after the company that would result in neither an outright ban nor a threat to free speech.

“I don't think it will be well received,” Khanna said. “It's a sign that Washington is out of touch with voters.”

Nadya Okamoto, a content creator who has about 4 million followers on TikTok, said she has spoken to other creators who are experiencing “a lot of anger and anxiety” about the bill and how it will affect their lives. The 26-year-old, whose company “August” sells menstrual products and is known for her advocacy for the destigmatization of menstrual periods, derives most of her income from TikTok.

“This is going to have real repercussions,” he said.

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