US Lawmakers Inundated With Calls From TikTok Users

Members of the US Congress have said they were inundated with telephone calls from constituents as they prepared to vote on a bill that could ban social media platform TikTok from the country or force Beijing-based parent company ByteDance to divest.

The calls were spurred by a TikTok campaign that urged users to act to “stop a TikTok shutdown”.

Users were shown a pop-up message that asked them to enter their ZIP code, then showed them contact information for their local representative.

The campaign then urged users to contact their representative and let them “know what TikTok means to you and tell them to vote NO”.

Image credit: Unsplash

Anger

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which unveiled the bill alongside the China Select Committee, approved the bill in a highly unusual 50-0 vote that some representatives indicated was intended to show their anger at TikTok’s pressure campaign.

The bill, which must still be approved by the Senate to pass into law, would give ByteDance 165 days to divest TikTok or the app would be banned from US app stores.

In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, TikTok described the bill as “an outright ban… no matter how much the authors try to disguise it”.

“This legislation will trample the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform they rely on to grow and create jobs,” the firm continued.

TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew. Image credit: TikTok

‘Cheap political points’

Some representatives denied this, since since ByteDance is being given time to respond.

“TikTok is characterising it as an outright ban, which is of course an outright lie,” House China Select Committee chair Mike Gallagher told reporters.

But Representative Dan Crenshaw responded to a TikTok message on X: “No one is trying to disguise anything. You’re correct – we want to ban TikTok.”

President Joe Biden said on Friday he would sign the bill if Congress passes it.

Previous efforts to ban the app by former US president Donald Trump, the state of Montana and the Biden administration have foundered amidst concerns over constitutional violations or government overreach.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) highlighted that many rely on the app for information and communication, and called the bill an effort to score “cheap political points during an election year”.

Election-year campaigning

Biden’s re-election campaign established a TikTok account last month, even as Biden supports the stalled Restrict Act that would give the White House greater powers to review and ban foreign technologies.

During his State of the Union address last Thursday Biden highlighted his administrations efforts against “China’s unfair economic practices” and moves to ensure that “the most advanced American technologies can’t be used in China’s weapons”, a reference to successive rounds of export controls targeting China’s advanced semiconductor and AI industries.

“We’re in a stronger position to win the competition for the 21st Century against China or anyone else for that matter,” he said.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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