Explainer: Why is the US government trying to ban TikTok?

April 24, 2024 - 9:27 AM
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U.S. flag is placed on a TikTok logo in this illustration taken March 20, 2024. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo/File Photo)

 The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Saturday that would give TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance about a year to divest the U.S. assets of the short-video app, or face a nationwide ban. It now moves to the Senate where it could be taken up for a vote in the coming days.

Here is a look at the effort to ban the app, its chances in the U.S. Senate and what that would actually mean.

Why are US officials trying to ban TikTok? 

U.S. officials warn TikTok’s management is beholden to the Chinese government and fear Beijing could use the social media app to influence the 2024 U.S. elections, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a House of Representatives intelligence committee hearing in March.

Many U.S. lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic parties and the Biden administration also say TikTok poses national security risks because China could compel the company to share the data of its 170 million U.S. users.

The Department of Justice recently warned lawmakers that because ByteDance is headquartered in Beijing, TikTok’s American users are at risk because “foreign governments like the PRC (China) that are known for their surveillance and censorship.”

What does the bill mean?

In an election year when many politicians do not want to be seen as soft on China, the bill is the latest in a series of moves responding to national security concerns. Officials in both political parties have raised red flags about TikTok along with other issues ranging from connected vehicles to advanced artificial intelligence chips to cranes at U.S. ports.

On the other side, many younger voters oppose a ban because they use the app to express their views and follow politics. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign joined TikTok, raising hopes among company officials that legislation was unlikely this year.

Who voted in favor of the ban?

The bill passed by a margin of 360 to 58 with broad bipartisan support as part of a $95 billion legislative package that also provides security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

Saturday’s TikTok measure stems from legislation introduced on March 5 by Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House of Representatives’ select China committee and Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, the top Democrat, with more than a dozen lawmakers.

Detractors include Democratic Representative Ro Khanna who told ABC News on Sunday that he felt a TikTok ban may not survive legal scrutiny in courts, citing the Constitution’s free speech protections.

A number of prominent Democrats in the House voted against the bill, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush and Pramila Jayapal.

“There are serious antitrust and privacy questions here, and any national security concerns should be laid out to the public prior to a vote,” Ocasio-Cortez said at the time.

How would a ban be enforced?

If passed by the Senate in its current form and signed into law by Biden, the bill would give TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance about nine months to divest the U.S. assets of the short-video app. The deadline could be extended by three months if the president was to determine progress toward a sale.

It is unclear whether China would approve any sale or if TikTok’s U.S. assets could be divested in that period of time.

If ByteDance failed to do so, app stores operated by Apple AAPL.O, Alphabet’s GOOGL.O Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications.

In theory the ban would make it difficult, if not impossible, for users to access TikTok in the U.S.

Is Tiktok banned in other countries?

India banned TikTok along with dozens of other apps by Chinese developers in June 2020, saying they could compromise national security and integrity. Nepal’s government banned the app in November 2023.

Several countries, including the U.S., Australia, Canada and New Zealand have banned TikTok from federal government-owned devices.

What’s next for TikTok in the U.S.? 

The TikTok bill passed by the House has a good chance of being passed in the Senate because it has been packaged with several top priorities of the Senate, including aid for Ukraine and Israel.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, who will play an important role in the Senate’s next move, expressed support for the latest bill. She had earlier asked the House to revise some details in the bill voted on March 13.

— Reporting by David Shepardson and Chris Sanders; Editing by David Gregorio and Sharon Singleton