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Congress to Vote on Bill that Could Ban TikTok

By Tom Marino | March 12, 2024
Last Updated: March 12, 2024

WASHINGTON – The US House of Representatives are expected to vote on a bill on Wednesday that would ban TikTok in the US if its parent company, ByteDance, refuses to divest from the social media platform and short-form video hosting service. The vote could come as soon as Wednesday, March 13.

The bill would still have to pass the US Senate before President Biden could sign it into law. Biden has said he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk. The senate currently has a competing version of the bill.

ByteDance is based in Bejing, China. Organizations owned by the Chinese government have a stake in the company. If the bill is signed into law, ByteDance could sell the company, do a stock swap with investors, take the company public, or reduce ByteDance’s combined ownership to under 20 percent of the company. If ByteDance declines to comply, the app would become banned 180 days after the bill becomes law.

Because of the Chinese government’s stake in the company, its large number of users, and the data the company is able to collect from its large user base, several lawmakers view the app as a threat to national security. Polling by Pew Research Center in July 2023 that 59 percent of Americans believe TikTok is a national security threat. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Christopher Wray recently testified before a Senate hearing that he believes TikTok is a national security threat.

The federal government and more than half of US states have banned TikTok on government owned devices. The European Union, Canada, United Kingdom, and other countries have also banned the app for civil servants on government owned phones. In 2020, India imposed a nationwide ban on TikTok, WeChat, and other apps owned by Chinese companies over privacy and security concerns.

TikTok has around 170 million users and over 102 million monthly active users in the US, which is over 30 percent of mobile internet users. The platform has over 1 billion users worldwide, making it the fourth largest social media platform globally, behind Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. TikTok’s users trend younger than other platforms, with 25 percent between the age of 10 and 19 and 22 percent between the age of 20 to 29.

While some in Washington have discussed banning TikTok in the past, the current bill in the US House of Representatives, “H.R.7521 – Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” has been on an unusually fast track. It was introduced in the house on March 5 and referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce. The committee voted on the bill on March 7, approving it by a unanimous vote of 50 to 0. The committee report was submitted to the full house on March 11.

The bill has 54 cosponsors, including Rep. Seth Moulton, who represents the 6th Massachusetts district on the north shore, and Rep. Jake Auchincloss of the 4th Massachusetts district in Western Massachusetts.

TikTok Challenges

Challenges for users are a common feature on TikTok. Some are innocent, such as the Lip Sync Challenges, where users share videos of themselves lip syncing to songs. Another, the Don’t Rush Challenge, consists of users recording themselves applying makeup, then posting the video in fast forward, to show a time lapsed version.

Others challenges have been dangerous. For example, the Blackout Challenge required users to film their videos while holding their breath for as long as possible to see how long it takes for them to pass out. Some people, mostly children, died while partaking in the challenge.

In December 2021, one challenge pushed students to call in to their schools and threaten gun violence to get school cancelled. Some schools in Worcester County received threats.

In September 2023, a 14-year-old Doherty high School sophomore, Harris Wolobah, died after taking part in the “one chip challenge” earlier in the same day. In that challenge, individuals would eat a chip made with the hottest pepper on earth, the Carolina Reaper pepper. The challenge was not exclusive to TikTok, but the platform hosted many videos of users taking the challenge. It is not clear if Wolobah learned of the challenge via TikTok or if the challenge led to his death.

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