Congress puts TikTok divest-or-ban bill on fast track, could become law in days



The US House on Saturday put legislation forcing TikTok’s Chinese parent ByteDance Ltd. to divest its ownership stake on a fast-track to become law, tying it to a crucial aid package for Ukraine and Israel.

A massive lobbying effort led by TikTok Chief Executive Officer Shou Chew failed to overcome a bipartisan coalition worried about the app’s collection of data on more than 170 million Americans — and the potential for the Chinese government to use it to disseminate propaganda.

The broad legislation, which passed on a 360 to 58 vote, also would place new restrictions on data brokers selling information to foreign adversaries and authorize the confiscation of frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine.

The Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week and President Joe Biden has said he will sign the legislation. 

“This bill protects Americans and especially America’s children from the malign influence of Chinese propaganda on the app TikTok. This app is a spy balloon in Americans’ phones,” said bill author Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican. 

Opponents of the bill like Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, could still try to strip out the TikTok measure in the Senate, but such efforts aren’t likely to be successful. 

ByteDance intends to exhaust all legal challenges before it considers any kind of divestiture if the TikTok ban becomes law, according to people familiar with the matter.

Years of scrutiny over TikTok’s connection to China spans presidential administrations, political parties and arms of the government. Former President Donald Trump tried to ban the app via an executive order that was set aside under Biden, whose administration oversaw a review by the Committee for Foreign Investment in the United States. 

Multiple bipartisan ban bills were proposed in Congress and then forgotten. The divest-or-ban framework seems to have finally threaded the needle.

The legislation passed Saturday gives ByteDance nearly a year to divest itself of the social media platform, with 90 of those days subject to a presidential waiver — longer than the six-month time frame in a version of the legislation the House passed earlier this year.

That extended deadline means TikTok won’t have to divest or be shut down before the election, to the dismay of some lawmakers who say they worry China could use the app to meddle in US politics.

TikTok rose to prominence during the pandemic as a place to share entertaining, short videos without the expectation of perfection that hangs over apps like Instagram. It’s algorithmically-curated feed tailored based on peoples’ interests — not who they follow — was a new, captivating way to scroll on social media. That idea has since been copied by Meta and Alphabet’s YouTube.

TikTok has argued that the legislation would violate the First Amendment and pointed to their spending $1.5 billion-plus on data privacy efforts to try to allay national security concerns. TikTok has brought creators and small business owners to the US Capitol to argue they say would suffer economic losses without TikTok. 

They’ve also encouraged users to call their lawmakers to urge them to vote against the bill. The company hired well-known lobbyists to try and sway lawmakers. So far, none of it has been enough.



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