TikTok to fight ban after US pushes forward with outlawing app

Chinese-owned app says ban is ‘clear violation’ of free speech of 170 million American users

Anthony Cuthbertson
Monday 22 April 2024 14:18 BST
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TikTok has told employees that it will fight ongoing attempts to ban the app in the US.

The US House of Representatives passed a bill over the weekend that would force Chinese owner ByteDance to sell the viral social media platform within a year to avoid a nationwide ban.

In response, TikTok’s head of public policy sent a memo to staff saying that the legislation is a “clear violation of the First Amendment rights of TikTok’s 170 million American users”.

TikTok’s Michael Beckerman added: “We’ll continue to fight... This is the beginning, not the end of this long process.”

The bill is expected to be signed into law by US President Joe Biden after passing through the Senate this week.

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Many US lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties and the Biden administration say TikTok poses national security risks because China could compel the company to share the data of its US users. There are also concerns that the algorithm could be used to funnel misinformation and propaganda to US citizens.

The bill was included in a broader foreign aid package for Israel and Ukraine, which may fast-track the timeline on a potential ban after an earlier separate bill stalled in the Senate.

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans,” TikTok said in a statement.

TikTok in February had criticised the original bill that ultimately stalled in the Senate, saying that it would “censor millions of Americans.” It had similarly argued that a state ban on TikTok in Montana passed last year was a violation of the First Amendment.

TikTok insists it has never shared US data and never would.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Sunday that TikTok could be used as a propaganda tool by the Chinese government, noting that “many young people” use TikTok to get news.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, a free speech group, said the latest bill had “no real pay-off” because China and other US rivals could still buy Americans’ data from brokers in the open market and engage in disinformation campaigns using US-based social media platforms.

Some Democrats have also raised free speech concerns over a ban and instead asked for stronger data privacy legislation.

The House voted on 13 March to give ByteDance about six months to divest the US assets of TikTok or face a ban.

The legislation passed on Saturday gives a nine-month deadline that could be extended to a date three months later if the president was to determine progress toward a sale.

TikTok is already banned in several countries, including India. Partial bans are also in place across other major markets, including the European Union.

Additional reporting from agencies.

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