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Lawmakers Seek to Force Bytedance to Divest TikTok or Face US Ban

TikTok rivals Amazon with $20 billion shopping pilot.
An initial vote is expected Thursday. (Shutterstock)

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers introduced legislation on Tuesday that would give China’s ByteDance about six months to divest popular short video app TikTok or face a US ban.

Representative Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House of Representatives’ select China committee and Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, the top Democrat, are introducing legislation along with more than a dozen other lawmakers to address national security concerns posed by Chinese ownership of the app.

An initial vote is expected Thursday.

“This is my message to TikTok: break up with the Chinese Communist Party or lose access to your American users,” Gallagher said. “America’s foremost adversary has no business controlling a dominant media platform in the United States.”

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The bill would give ByteDance 165 days to divest TikTok, which is used by more than 170 million Americans, or it would be unlawful for app stores operated by Apple, Google and others to offer TikTok or to provide web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications. The bill would not authorise any enforcement against individual users of an affected app.

“This bill is an outright ban of TikTok, no matter how much the authors try to disguise it,” a company spokesperson said Tuesday. “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.”

TikTok says it has not and would not share US user data with the Chinese government.

Senate legislation to ban the popular app stalled in Congress last year in the face of heavy lobbying by TikTok. The bill marks the first significant legislative move toward banning or forcing ByteDance to divest the app in nearly a year.

The bill, which would require companion legislation in the Senate, will be considered at an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday for a potential vote and could pose a significant threat to ByteDance’s ownership of TikTok.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bill will “prevent foreign adversaries, such as China, from surveilling and manipulating the American people through online applications like TikTok.”

Still, the app is very popular and getting legislation approved in an election year may be difficult. Last month, Democratic President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign joined TikTok.

The bill would give the president new powers to designate apps of concern posing national security risks and face bans or restrictions absent divestiture. It would apply to apps with “over one million annual active users, and is under the control of a foreign adversary entity.”

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Concerns about Chinese-owned TikTok last year sparked efforts in Congress to boost powers to address the popular short video sharing app or potentially ban it.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre declined to offer a position on the bill but last year the administration backed legislation sponsored by Senator Mark Warner and more than two dozen other senators to give the administration new powers to ban TikTok and other foreign-based technologies if they pose national security threats. That bill has never been voted on.

The US Treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in March 2023 demanded that TikTok’s Chinese owners sell their shares, or face the possibility of the app being banned, Reuters and other news outlets reported, but the administration has taken no action.

The new bill is aimed at bolstering the legal authority to address TikTok concerns. Biden’s predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, tried to ban TikTok in 2020 but was blocked by US courts.

A US judge in late November blocked Montana’s first-of-its kind state ban on TikTok, saying it violated the free speech rights of users.

By David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

Learn more:

Montana Appealing Ruling That Blocked State From Barring TikTok Use

Montana said on Tuesday it was appealing a decision by a US judge in November to block Montana’s first-of-its kind state ban on the use of short-video sharing app TikTok.

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