Image for House Votes to Ban TikTok in America
The House overwhelmingly approved a bill to ban TikTok unless its Chinese owner ByteDance divests of the popular video app with 170 million American users.

Northwest Delegation Split on Bill That Could Affect 170 Million U.S. Users

The House voted 352-65 in favor of H.R. 7521 that would ban TikTok in America unless its Chinese owner ByteDance divests the popular app to non-Chinese owners within six months. It now goes to the Senate, which is unlikely to act swiftly, if at all.

If passed, the legislation would require app stores to stop downloading TikTok to new users. It also would restrict downloading platform updates, which over time would degrade the app for existing users.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is noncommittal on the legislation. President Biden has indicated he would sign the bill if sent to him and lent White House assistance in crafting the bill. Donald Trump, his Republican presidential opponent, changed his mind and now opposes the ban because “there are a lot of young kids on TikTok who will go crazy without it.” As President in 2020, Trump unsuccessfully tried to ban and force the sale of TikTok.

The Pacific Northwest delegation split on the bill. ‘No’ votes were cast by Congresswomen Suzanne Bonamici, Pamela Jayapal and Val Hoyle and Congressman Rick Larsen, all Democrats. Voting for the bill were Oregon Democrats Earl Blumenauer and Andrea Salinas and Republicans Cliff Bentz and Lori Chavez-DeRemer. Eight of Washington’s 10 congressional members, including Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez, voted for the bill.

“Today we send a clear message that we will not tolerate our adversaries weaponizing our freedoms against us,” said Washington Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee that sent the bill to the floor.

The House floor vote produced interesting inter-party collaboration. The New York Times reported former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was seen on the Republican side of the chamber conversing with hard-right Republican Chip Roy, both of whom supported the bill. The ‘no’ votes came from a mix of House progressives and arch-conservatives.

“Break up with the Chinese Communist Party
or lose access to your American users.”

National Security Concerns
Fears that Chinese officials have or would exploit TikTok to gather personal data and promote propaganda propelled quick action in the House. Opponents raised concerns about rushing through the legislation without full consideration of its antitrust, privacy and national security implications.  Some experts questioned whether a divestiture could be completed in six months.

TikTok points out it is a private company  incorporated in the United States with headquarters in Los Angeles. However, the company’s unwillingness to open its user algorithm for evaluation has fueled claims it has been weaponized by Chinese officials. TikTok officials deny U.S. user data has been shared with the Chinese government, and insist they wouldn’t share data if asked.

Behind-the-scenes negotiations between TikTok and U.S. national security officials failed to quiet concerns, which led to the uncharacteristically rapid congressional legislative action on a ban. “This is my message to TikTok: Break up with the Chinese Communist Party or lose access to your American users,” said Wisconsin Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher, who chairs the House Select Committee on China.

TikTok reportedly spent more than $1 billion on Project Texas, intended to handle sensitive U.S. user data separately from the rest of the company’s operations. Project Texas has been reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS. Gallagher said, “CFIUS hasn’t solved the problem.”

TikTok’s 170 Million Users
“The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their constitutional right to free expression,” TikTok said in a recent statement. New York Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who against the bill,  posted a video on TikTok the said, “If we want to make a decision as significant as banning TikTok, and we believe – or someone believes – that there is really important information that the public deserves to know about why such a decision would be justified, that information should be shared.”

The day before the vote, officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Justice Department gave a classified briefing to lawmakers about national security concerns linked to TikTok.

The video platform saw 672 million downloads in 2022, doubling TikTok’s annual revenue to $9.4 billion. With more than 1 billion users worldwide, TikTok is more popular than Instagram or Facebook. According to the platform, TikTok is the shop floor for seven million small U.S. businesses, many of which were launched by young and BIPOC entrepreneurs.

Before the House floor vote, TikTok sparked a Capitol Hill opposition campaign among its large user community, which include influencers and creators who make their living off TikTok posts. Users were encouraged to send a pop-up message, a tactic that inundated congressional offices, forcing some to shut off their phones. The tactic also riled up House leaders, who accused TikTok of wielding its users to influence Congress, which isn’t a novel Capitol Hill advocacy strategy.

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced the Restrict Act that would give the Commerce Department authority to block technology deals involving companies from countries deemed U.S. adversaries. TikTok is the primary target. Washington Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, would have control of the House bill and the Senate counterpart.

Virginia Democratic Senator Mark R. Warner, lead sponsor of the Restrict Act, expressed concerns over the constitutionality of legislation “that names specific companies”.

“Unlike our adversaries, we believe in
freedom of speech and don’t ban social media platforms.”

What Oregon Members Said
Voting yes, Bentz said, “It is paramount that we take action to protect Americans from potential surveillance, data breaches and targeted political messaging orchestrated by apps being controlled by adversarial foreign powers like the People’s Republic of China. This bill provides a critical framework to safeguard our national security interests while minimizing disruptions to users and businesses.”

Voting no, Bonamici said, “Instead of targeting one company, we should consider comprehensive legislation to improve how Americans access and control their data across all apps and uses. I also have serious constitutional concerns about this bill. The First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution enshrines the protection of free speech and a press free from fear of retribution from the government. Protecting this right is a cornerstone of our democracy, and one that I am committed to upholding.”

Voting yes, Salinas said, “I have deep concerns about the Chinese Communist Party having unfettered access to Americans’ data. Protecting our privacy and national security has to be a top priority, which is why I voted to force the Chinese parent company ByteDance to divest from TikTok. Doing so would remove China from the equation and allow Americans to continue enjoying an app they love without having to worry about their data being compromised.”

Voting no, Hoyle said, “Unlike our adversaries, we believe in freedom of speech and don’t ban social media platforms. Instead of this rushed bill, we need comprehensive data security legislation that protects all Americans.”

Voting yes, Chavez-DeRemer said, “Congress has received classified briefings that have made TikTok’s national security threat clear, and that’s reflected in the overwhelming bipartisan support this bill received in both committee and on the House floor. This is the right thing to do for our country and Americans’ security and privacy. To anyone frustrated with this bill: Ask TikTok to do the right thing and sever its ties with the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok and Forbes
The company and the magazine have sparred for some time over inappropriate access to U.S. user data. In 2022, Forbes alleged TikTok’s parent company spied on one of its reporters.

A Forbes’ article claimed TikTok and ByteDance didn’t answer questions about whether the app’s internal audit team had ever targeted U.S. politicians, activists, public figures or journalists. TikTok said the app has “never been used to target” specific people or alter their app experience. Its audit team, TikTok said, “follows set policies and processes to acquire information needed to conduct investigations.”

A Buzzfeed News report in 2022 alleged U.S. user data had been accessed by Chinese sources. That prompted TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew to reassure U.S. critics that American user data would be maintained separately from ByteDance.

Additional Facts About H.R. 7521
The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act would apply to any social medical platform controlled by a foreign adversary of the United States, which includes Russia, Iran and North Korea in addition to China.

The legislation would not apply to social media apps or websites primarily used for product reviews, business reviews or travel information.

If passed, the measure would authorize the President to ban apps owned or controlled by a foreign adversary, deemed a threat to national security and with more than one million active users. A press release issued by supporters after House passage said, “This legislation does not regulate speech. It is focused entirely on foreign adversary control, not the content of speech being shared.”

Previous federal and state attempts to deal with TikTok have been successfully challenged in court. There are bans in place that restrict access to TikTok on federal government and some state phones and devices. Several colleges and public schools have imposed bans on the use of the app on their Wi-Fi networks.