Democrats don’t think a TikTok ban will alienate young voters — are they right?

Trump’s posts on Truth Social and polling elsewhere suggest young voters may well respond strongly to a TikTok sale or ban. Meanwhile, former Trump administration treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin has expressed interest in purchasing the company

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Wednesday 24 April 2024 23:16 BST
US Senate passes $95 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel

Democratic Senators say they did not think that they will face a backlash for voting for legislation that could potentially lead to a ban on TikTok. But it’s unclear whether they are correct.

The Senate voted late Tuesday evening to advance a $95 billion aid package that provided assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The package also included legislation passed by the House that would force TikTok’s parent company ByteDance to sell TikTok. If ByteDance cannot divest, TikTok would be banned in the United States.

Banning TikTok has long been a priority of both Democrats and Republicans. Lawmakers argue that ByteDance is based in China and is therefore effectively controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Former president Donald Trump signed an executive order to ban TikTok in 2019, but a court blocked the order in late 2020.

Since then, Trump has changed his opinion on the app, saying he opposes a ban on the grounds that it would benefit companies like Meta, owner of Facebook. On Monday, Trump sought to remind young voters on his Truth Social network that Biden would be responsible for a TikTok ban.

“Just so everyone knows, especially the young people, Crooked Joe Biden is responsible for banning TikTok,” he wrote. “He is the one pushing it to close, and doing it to help his friends over at Facebook become richer and more dominant, and able to continue to fight, perhaps illegally, the Republican Party.”

But Democratic Senators seemed unfazed when speaking on Tuesday ahead of the vote.

“This is a divestiture, this is not a ban,” Senator Mark Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Independent. Before working in politics, Mr Warner made millions as an early investor in mobile phones.

“I think there's a lot of creativity on TikTok,” he said. “We just think it ought to be, at the end of the day, not controlled by an entity controlled by the Communist Party of China.”

Mr Warner’s colleague from Virginia, Senator Tim Kaine, also said he was not concerned.

“TikTok is not going to be banned,” he told The Independent. “Everybody's going to still have access to TikTok.”

Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania told reporters the legislation would not ban TikTok.

“I've been very clear I'm not trying to ban it,” he said. “I can't wait to vote to force it to divest, and I could have banned it in my home and I didn't. So I'm not trying to ban it [federally].”

Polling has shown that young voters are not universally in favor of or opposed to banning TikTok. An Economist / YouGov poll from last month showed that 46 per cent of 18 to 29-year-old US adults have a TikTok account, significantly less than the 66 per cent who say they have a Facebook account and the 77 per cent who say they have an account on YouTube. But a narrow plurality of that same demographic has a negative view of TikTok at 47 per cent, compared to 45 per cent who have a positive view.

Nevertheless, young US adults disproportionately oppose requiring TikTok to be sold, with 49 per cent saying they oppose it. Conversely, a plurality or majority of every other age group supports ByteDance selling the network.

Young voters are also split depending on TikTok usage, with 50 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds who use TikTok opposing a ban, while 52 per cent of non-TikTok users support one.

Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia, the youngest Senator, said he was not concerned. Mr Ossoff used to post regularly on TikTok but his account has not posted a video on the app since 2021.

“The requirement is for new ownership,” Mr Ossoff told The Independent. “It's about striking the right balance between real privacy and national security concerns, and the understandable desire for users to engage on these platforms and folks at businesses so I understand the concern.”

Former Trump administration treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin has expressed interest in purchasing the company.

That has triggered concerns from Senator Ron Wyden, an ardent supporter of data privacy.

“I still feel strongly about making sure there are First Amendment rights,” Mr Wyden, who serves as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told The Independent. “I feel strongly about not just moving it from China to Steve Minuchin and sovereign wealth funds. So I think there's a lot more to do.”

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