Helena Lyng Blak
4 weeks ago

Senate Passes ‘TikTok Ban Bill’

The US Senate has passed a bill that could lead to a nationwide TikTok ban amidst broader legislative actions.
WESTOCK PRODUCTIONS / Shutterstock.com
WESTOCK PRODUCTIONS / Shutterstock.com

On Tuesday evening, local time, April 23, 2024, the United States Senate voted in favor of legislation that may ban TikTok nationwide. 

The initiative, originally passed through the US House of Representatives as its own bill, was combined with three other bills into a singular vote.

In addition to approving the ‘TikTok ban bill’, the Senate’s vote also approved foreign aid packages totaling $95 billion, with $60 billion earmarked for Ukrainian defense efforts, $17 billion for weapons aid to Israel, $9 billion for humanitarian aid to Gaza and others, as well as some aid for Taiwan.

Why Does the US Want to Ban TikTok?

The US governmental push against TikTok started in 2020, when then-President Donald Trump and his administration raised concerns surrounding TikTok, its relation to China, and how that may affect the American national security due to its alleged ties to the Chinese government.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a company founded by Chinese entrepreneurs.

Fundamentally, the US worries that the app is vulnerable to election interference, propaganda and data breaches. 

A bipartisan bill, it was overwhelmingly supported by the Democrats, with 46 out of 48 senators supporting the bill. The Republican senators were slightly more divided with 31 senators supporting, 15 opposing, and three abstaining from the vote. President Joe Biden has endorsed the bill, and stated he will sign the legislation once it reaches his desk.

What Are the Arguments Against a Ban?

TikTok has consistently maintained that it is not affiliated with the Chinese government, highlighting that around 60% of ByteDance Ltd is owned by global institutional investors, 20% by ByteDance employees around the world, and finally, the remaining 20% is owned by the company’s Chinese founder. TikTok furthermore underscores that no one on its board of directors is currently based in mainland China, and that the majority are US-based.

During a 2023 hearing, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew stated that the app neither promotes nor removes content at the request of the Chinese government, saying as per NPR, that the platform is “free from any manipulation from any government.” Chew further argued that “American social companies don't have a good track record with data privacy and user security,” referencing Meta’s Cambridge Analytica case.

Trump, despite originally advocated for a ban, has retracted his endorsement, explaining to CNBC that he believes a ban would unfairly benefit other social media sites such as Facebook whom Trump considers “an enemy of the people”.

Lastly, some have criticized the bill for being anti-free speech, with Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stating, “We’re deeply disappointed that our leaders are once again attempting to trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points during an election year.”

Does This Mean TikTok is Banned?

Not exactly.

First and foremost, TikTok has a chance to challenge the new legislation in court. According to Danmarks Radio’s Asia-correspondent Philip Róin, TikTok will most likely argue that the bill goes against freedom of speech and is thereby unconstitutional.

When Montana in 2023 tried to ban TikTok in the state, it was blocked by a US judge, assessing that the proposed ban was unconstitutional.  

Furthermore, if TikTok either chooses to not pursue the case or are unsuccessful in appealing the legislation, it still might not lead to a ban.

The bill requires TikTok’s parent, ByteDance company to either divest its American operations or the app will be banned in the US, so it is entirely possible that a sale may happen. 

As the bill now awaits the President's signature, stakeholders from multiple sectors are poised to assess the potential ramifications of this legislation, reflecting on the broader landscape of internet governance and privacy concerns.

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