Senators Take Up TikTok Bill After Italy Fine Over Harmful Content

A bill that could force China’s ByteDance to divest its US operations of TikTok or face a ban in the country is proceeding more slowly through the US Senate after rapid approval in the House of Representatives, senators told the Washington Post.

The bill is only one of a number of challenges for TikTok, which last week received a 10 million euro (£9.5m) fine from Italy’s competition commission for inadequate checks on content potentially harmful to young or vulnerable users.

Meanwhile, Canada’s industry ministry last week ordered a national security review of a proposal by TikTok to increase its investments in the country, adding to scrutiny of the firm’s plans and operations.

TikTok encouraged its more than 100 million US users to contact their representatives in the days ahead of a key vote last week, provoking a backlash from lawmakers who approved it only eight days after its introduction in the House by a 352-65 vote.

TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew. Image credit: TikTok

Slower pace

The company also sent chief executive Shou Zi Chew to Washington DC to campaign and is reportedly spending heavily on federal lobbyists.

The firm said on X that it was “disappointing members of Congress would complain about hearing from their own constituents”.

After its unusually rapid progress through the House, however, senators are taking a more measured approach.

Senator Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told the Washington Post that “you can do a lot of damage by moving too quickly or without the facts”.

Senator Ted Cruz, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, said the chamber should “examine” the bill and have his panel take it up, but declined to endorse the proposal as it stands.

Image credit: Unsplash

Italy fine

Others in the Senate were more wary of the bill getting bogged down in discussions, with senator Josh Hawley, a prominent critic of TikTok and other large tech companies, saying opponents would try to “kill this slowly”.

The Italian competition regulator, the AGCM, on Thursday fined three units of TikTok 10m euros saying it failed to protect young people from potentially dangerous content such as material promoting a practice known as the “French scar”, a popular challenge that involves pinching cheeks to leave a lasting bruise.

TikTok said it had “long ago restricted visibility” of French Scar videos for those under 18.

“We disagree with this decision,” the company said.

In February Italy’s AGCOM, a separate communications regulator, forced TikTok to remove the videos.

Regulatory pressure

Last month the European Commission opened a probe into whether TikTok breached new Digital Services Act (DSA) rules related to the protection of minors, advertising transparence, data access for researchers and risk management for addictive design and harmful content.

TikTok was fined last year by the Irish data protection commissioner and the UK Information Commissioner’s Office over failure to protect the personal data of children.

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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