Home » News » Bill that could make TikTok unavailable in the U.S. advances quickly in the House

By Kevin Freking and Haleluya Hadero, The Associated Press, published on March 8, 2024

Select Dynamic field

Fans sit under a TikTok ad at a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, April 14, 2023, in New York. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, file

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bill that could lead to the popular video-sharing app TikTok’s being unavailable in the United States is quickly gaining traction in the House as lawmakers voice concerns about the potential for the platform to surveil and manipulate Americans.

The measure gained the support of House Speaker Mike Johnson and could soon come up for a full vote in the House. The bill advanced out of committee March 7 in a unanimous bipartisan vote — 50-0.

The White House has provided technical support in the drafting of the bill, though White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the TikTok legislation “still needs some work” to get to a place where President Joe Biden would endorse it.

The bill takes a two-pronged approach. First, it requires ByteDance Ltd., which is based in Beijing, to divest TikTok and other applications it controls within 180 days of enactment of the bill or those applications will be prohibited in the United States. Second, it creates a narrow process to let the executive branch prohibit access to an app owned by a foreign adversary if it poses a threat to national security.

“It’s an important, bipartisan measure to take on China, our largest geopolitical foe, which is actively undermining our economy and security,” Johnson said Thursday.

Some lawmakers and critics of TikTok have argued the Chinese government could force the company to share data on American users. TikTok says it has never done that and wouldn’t do so if asked. The U.S. government also hasn’t provided evidence of that happening.

Critics also claim the app could be used to spread misinformation beneficial to Beijing.

Former President Donald Trump attempted to ban TikTok through executive order, but the courts blocked the action after TikTok sued, arguing such actions would violate free-speech and due-process rights.

TikTok raised similar concerns about the legislation gaining momentum in the House.

“This bill is an outright ban of TikTok, no matter how much the authors try to disguise it. This legislation will trample the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform they rely on to grow and create jobs,” the company said in a prepared statement.

The bill’s author, Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chairman of a special House committee focused on China, rejected TikTok’s assertion of a ban. Rather, he said it’s an effort to force a change in TikTok’s ownership. He also took issue with TikTok urging some users to call their representatives and urge them to vote no on the bill.

The notification urged TikTok users to “speak up now — before your government strips 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression.” The notification also warned that the “ban” of TikTok would damage millions of businesses and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators around the country.

TikTok users responded by flooding the offices of lawmakers with telephone calls. Some offices even shut off their phones because of the onslaught. A congressional aide not authorized to speak on the matter publicly said that lawmakers on the committee voting on the bill Thursday as well as others were inundated with calls.

“Today, it’s about our bill and it’s about intimidating members considering that bill, but tomorrow it could be misinformation or lies about an election, about a war, about any number of things,” Gallagher said. “This is why we can’t take a chance on having a dominant news platform in America controlled or owned by a company that is behold to the Chinese Communist Party, our foremost adversary.”

The bill comes about one year after TikTok’s CEO was grilled for hours by skeptical lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee concerned about data security and the distribution of harmful content. That same committee met Thursday to debate and voted on the bill.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the committee’s Republican chair, said TikTok’s access to so many Americans makes it a valuable propaganda tool for the Chinese government to exploit. She also noted that its parent company ByteDance is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for surveilling American journalists.

“Through this access, the app is able to collect nearly every data point imaginable, from people’s location, to what they search on their devices, who they are connecting with, and other forms of sensitive information,” Rodgers said.

To assuage concerns from lawmakers, TikTok has promised to wall off U.S. user data from its parent company through a separate entity run independently from ByteDance and monitored by outside observers. TikTok says new user data is currently being stored on servers maintained by the software company Oracle.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other free-speech advocacy groups urged lawmakers to reject the TikTok bill, saying in a letter to the Energy and Commerce Committee’s leadership that “passing this legislation would trample on the constitutional right to freedom of speech of millions of people in the United States.”

Biden’s reelection campaign has opened a TikTok account as a way to boost its appeal with young voters, even as his administration continued to raise security concerns about whether the popular social media app might be sharing user data with China’s communist government.

Jean-Pierre said the White House welcomes lawmakers’ efforts on the TikTok legislation, but lawmakers need to continue work on it.

“Once it gets to a place where we think … it’s on legal standing and it’s in a place where it can get out of Congress, then the president would sign it,” she told reporters on March 6 during the daily White House briefing.

She also defended the White House’s efforts to limit the dangers of TikTok, even as the president engages with influencers on the social media platform and his campaign hosts a TikTok account.

“We are going to try to meet the America people where they are,” Jean-Pierre said. “We are trying to reach everyone. The president is the president for all Americans … it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to try to figure out how to protect our national security.”

Associated Press staff writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report, and staff writer Mae Anderson contributed from Brooklyn, N.Y. Hadero reported from Jersey City, N.J.

The Free Speech Center newsletter offers a digest of First Amendment- and news media-related news every other week. Subscribe for free here: https://bit.ly/3kG9uiJ


More than 1,700 articles on First Amendment topics, court cases and history