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Will the U.S. government ban TikTok? Here’s where it stands

TikTok, the widely-used social media platform under the ownership of China-based ByteDance, faces mounting pressure from U.S. lawmakers over concerns regarding data security and foreign influence.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill that would mandate TikTok’s divestment from ByteDance or impose a nationwide ban. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce unanimously approved the measure last Thursday, with House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) indicating a potential vote as early as Wednesday.

Will TikTok be banned in America?

This legislative move marks the latest development in ongoing efforts to regulate TikTok, known for its short-video format akin to Instagram. Former President Donald Trump’s attempt to ban the app via executive order in 2020 was thwarted by court rulings following legal challenges from TikTok.

Key proponents of the bill, including Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), argue that TikTok’s Chinese ownership poses a significant national security threat. They contend that the app could potentially be exploited to influence public opinion or conduct surveillance on American users, characterizing it as “Communist Party malware.”

However, sponsors of the bill refute accusations of seeking a blanket ban on TikTok, asserting their aim to eliminate foreign control over the platform.

“America’s foremost adversary has no business controlling a dominant media platform in the United States,” Gallagher stated in a press release announcing the legislation.

Finger Lakes Partners (Billboard)

Opposition to the proposed measure comes from Senate Democrats and civil liberties groups, who argue that a ban would curtail users’ freedom of expression. Instead, Senate Democrats have proposed alternative bills granting federal authorities broader powers to address foreign-controlled apps without singling out TikTok.

The bill passed by the House Energy Committee mandates divestment from any company deemed to be under foreign control within 180 days, specifically targeting ByteDance and TikTok. Divestment options include selling the app to a U.S.-based entity, subject to presidential determination.

Should the bill become law and ByteDance refuse to comply, U.S.-based app stores and web hosting services would be prohibited from providing TikTok to the public.

TikTok has vehemently opposed the legislative efforts, launching a campaign urging users to voice opposition. A spokesperson for the company criticized the bill, alleging it aims to restrict freedom of expression and would harm millions of users and businesses.

TikTok parent company ByteDance

While the bill is expected to pass the House, its fate in the Democratic-controlled Senate remains uncertain. The stance of key Democratic figures, such as Senators Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who advocate for alternative proposals, further complicates the legislative landscape.

Moreover, the positions of potential 2024 presidential contenders add complexity, with President Joe Biden supporting the House Republicans’ measure while former President Trump has expressed opposition to a TikTok ban, citing concerns over its impact on users and potential benefits to rival platforms like Facebook.

The debate over TikTok’s future underscores broader concerns surrounding data security, foreign influence, and freedom of expression in the digital age.

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