US Congress Bid To Ban TikTok Or Divest Gathers Pace

Image credit: US Senate

Upcoming vote by House Committee on Energy and Commerce to ban TikTok in US, or insist on ByteDance divesting the app

Executives at China’s ByteDance will be closely watching a vote in Washington DC on Thursday, that may impact TikTok’s future in the United States.

Reuters reported that a new push by Congress on TikTok’s US future will take place on Thursday, when the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce will vote on legislation, giving Beijing-based ByteDance six months to divest itself from TikTok, or face a ban in the United States.

The vote will be concerning for ByteDance, because committee approval would then set up a vote by the US House of Representatives.

That would represent the first significant momentum for a US crackdown on TikTok, which has approximately 170 million users in America.

Image credit: Unsplash

Outright TikTok ban

The committee vote on Thursday comes after Representative Mike Gallagher, the Republican chairman of the House select China committee, and Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, the panel’s top Democrat, on Tuesday introduced legislation to address national security concerns posed by Chinese ownership of the app, Reuters reported.

“TikTok could live on and people could do whatever they want on it provided there is that separation,” Gallagher was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters Wednesday.

He urged US ByteDance investors to support a sale.

“It is not a ban – think of this as a surgery designed to remove the tumour and thereby save the patient in the process,” Gallagher was quoted as saying.

According to Reuters, the bill would give ByteDance 165 days to divest TikTok.

If ByteDance refuses, app stores operated by Apple, Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications.

“This bill is an outright ban of TikTok, no matter how much the authors try to disguise it,” a company spokesperson was quoted as saying. “This legislation will trample the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform.”

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

TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew. Image credit: TikTok
TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew. Image credit: TikTok

White House backing

The proposed vote has been welcomed by the White House, which has backed previous efforts to impose a nationwide ban on TikTok in the US.

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.

According to Reuters, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday praised the proposal, 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.”

However the app is popular with US youngsters, and getting legislation approved in an election year may be difficult.

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.