US House Gives ByteDance Six Months To Divest TikTok Or Face Ban


House of Representatives vote could force ByteDance to divest TikTok within six months, or face nationwide US ban

Executives at China’s ByteDance are now confronting a new harsh reality, after a significant vote in Washington DC on Wednesday.

The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill on Wednesday that gives TikTok’s Beijing-based owner ByteDance approximately six months to divest the US assets or face a nationwide ban.

The vote is the greatest threat to the app in the United States since the Trump administration, and comes despite TikTok’s campaign to the 170 million US users, urging them to contact their members of Congress.

Image credit: US Senate

TikTok ban

In the last several days, American users had been shown a pop-up message that asked them to enter their ZIP code, then showed them contact information for their local representative, urging them to make contact in order to “stop a TikTok shutdown”.

Members of the US Congress reportedly said they had been inundated with telephone calls from constituents as they prepared to vote.

The vote in the House of Representatives comes after the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce had voted unanimously last week for a ban or divestment. That meant the bill was fast tracked to the House itself.

And now the House has voted, and it was a landslide victory for those seeking to ban the app on national security grounds, with 352 Congress members voting in favour and only 65 against.

China-based ByteDance could now face a deadline of 165 days (six months) to divest itself of TikTok.

If it does not, app stores including the Apple App store and Google Play would be legally barred from hosting TikTok or providing web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications.

That said, TikTok users in the US could potentially bypass a ban by using a VPN.

Senate vote

The bill’s future is less certain in the Senate, Reuters noted.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly said Wednesday the Senate “will review the legislation when it comes over from the House.”

TikTok’s CEO has previously told US lawmakers that the app has not, and would not, share US user data with the Chinese government.

TikTok has also argued that it is not clear if China would approve any sale, or that it could be divested in six months.

“This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States,” the company was quoted as saying after the committee vote. “The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country.”

Although the bill was written with TikTok in mind, it is possible other China-owned platforms could be affected, including the US operations of Tencent’s WeChat.

White House backing

The White House has backed previous efforts to impose a nationwide ban on TikTok in the US, and President Biden has reportedly already indicated he is willing to sign this bill.

It should be remembered that the US Senate in December 2022 passed a bill barring federal employees from using the app on government devices.

And 34 out 50 US states have also banned TikTok on governmental devices.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had last week praised the bill, saying the administration wants “to see this bill get done so it can get to the president’s desk” saying it supports addressing “the threat posed by certain technology services operating in the United States.”

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

Montana is appealing that ruling.

Former US President Donald Trump in 2020 actively tried to ban TikTok in the US, and even tried to force its sale to a US owned entity, but his efforts were blocked by US courts.

Trump has now reportedly changed his mind and no longer wants to ban TikTok in the US.