US House Passes Bill Targeting TikTok Ownership

The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill on Wednesday that compels ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, to sell the popular social media platform or face a complete ban in the United States.

In a decisive vote, 352 members of Congress voted in favor of the bill, with only 65 opposing it. The legislation, which was swiftly moved to a vote after unanimous approval by a committee last week, grants China-based ByteDance a 165-day window to divest from TikTok. Failure to comply would result in app stores such as the Apple App Store and Google Play legally prohibited from hosting TikTok or providing web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications.

The House vote represents a significant threat to TikTok amid ongoing concerns over potential data collection and political censorship by the China-based company. Despite TikTok’s assurances that it does not share US user data with the Chinese government, previous attempts by the Trump administration to ban the app in 2020 and a state-level ban passed in Montana in 2023 have underscored these concerns. However, courts overturned these bans on grounds of first amendment violations, and Trump has since reversed his stance on the matter.

In March 2023, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) urged ByteDance to sell its TikTok shares or face a potential ban, though no action has been taken thus far.

The bill’s fate in the Senate is less certain, with some Senate Democrats expressing reservations about potential freedom of speech implications and suggesting alternative measures to address concerns of foreign influence in social media. However, the White House has expressed support for the legislation, emphasizing the administration’s desire to see the bill enacted.

While proponents of the bill argue that it does not constitute a ban as it provides ByteDance with an opportunity to sell TikTok and avoid being blocked in the US, TikTok has vehemently opposed the legislation, stating that a sale is not guaranteed within the six-month timeframe stipulated by the bill.

Following the committee’s approval of the bill, TikTok supporters flooded Congress with phone calls, prompting complaints from staffers. TikTok defended its users’ engagement in the democratic process, asserting that it is their right to express their opinions to elected representatives.

While the bill primarily targets TikTok, its potential implications extend to other China-owned platforms, such as the US operations of Tencent’s WeChat. Representative Mike Gallagher emphasized that the bill’s scope could be subject to further debate regarding its applicability to other companies.

In the midst of heightened scrutiny over foreign-owned social media platforms, the bill signals a significant development in US efforts to address national security concerns and regulate the digital landscape.

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