House Committee Passes Bill To Force ByteDance To Divest TikTok Or Face Ban

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UPDATE: The House Energy & Commerce Committee unanimously passed legislation to compel ByteDance to divest TikTok or face having the social media platform banned on app stores or web hosting services.

The committee voted 50-O for the legislation, which now must be voted on by the full House. But Speaker Mike Johnson has expressed support for the bill.

The vote followed a lobbying effort by TikTok, including sending prompts to users urging them to contact their member of Congress to protest the legislation.

Lawmakers’ offices reported being inundated with calls, but the strategy may have backfired when it came to members of the committee.

At a markup this afternoon, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the chair of the committee, said that “we witnessed first hand, in real time, how the Chinese Communist party can weaponize platforms like TikTok to manipulate the American people.” She accused the company of forcing users “to contact their representative if they wanted to continue using TikTok.” She said that the situation was “a clear national security threat to the United States.”

TikTok has denied that the Chinese government has access to Americans’ user data.

In a statement, TikTok said, “This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States. 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.”

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said that he will bring the bill to the floor for a vote next week.

PREVIOUSLY: TikTok users have reported getting push notifications urging them to contact their members of Congress to protest newly proposed legislation that would require that parent Chinese-owned ByteDance divest the app.

The notification warns users to “Stop a TikTok shutdown,” warning that Congress “is planning a total ban of TikTok.” It features a link where they can enter their ZIP code and then call their member of Congress, according to lawmakers.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to vote this afternoon on legislation that would would prevent app stores or web hosting services from TikTok applications unless it severs ties to ByteDance. The bill also gives the president a process for designating that a social media application under the control of a foreign adversary as a national security risk. ByteDance, based in China, would have about five months to divest its U.S. operations.

TikTok has long been a target of lawmakers who have warned that data of U.S. users could be shared with the Chinese government, as the legislation’s authors see the bill as addressing a national security issue.

The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act was introduced earlier this week. The White House has indicated its support, as has House Speaker Mike Johnson.

A TikTok spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

But two of the key champions of the legislation, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), responded to the campaign against the bill. Gallagher is the chairman and Krishnamoorthi is the ranking member of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.

Gallagher said that TikTok’s pop up messages to users is “saying that our effort is an outright ban. That is a lie. That is not what the bill does. Here you have an example of an adversary controlled application lying to the American people and interfering with the legislative process in Congress.”

Krishnamoorthi added, “They are using the geolocation of the users in order to be able to identify the member of Congress to call. This is the type of data, by the way, which ByteDance used from TikTok to target journalists. This is exactly the problem we have now with a foreign adversary controlled social media app. It only highlights the need for this particular bill.”

“The intimidation tactics, the disinformation has to stop,” Gallagher said.

TikTok has long denied that it shares data of U.S. users with the Chinese government. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified in a contentious House Energy and Commerce hearing last year, with some lawmakers citing a Chinese law that requires companies to cooperate with the country’s intelligence services, if called upon to do so. Chew, though, tried to assuage concerns by pointing to a project to keep data on U.S. servers.

Congressional staff reported on some of the calls they were getting. “We’re getting a lot of calls from high schoolers asking what a Congressman is. Yes really,” wrote Taylor Hulsey, communications director for Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL).

Earlier this week, TikTok released a statement in opposition to the legislation.

“This bill is an outright ban of TikTok, 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.”

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