TikTok uses ‘free speech’ card to save itself from US ban, will it be enough? - Hindustan Times

TikTok uses ‘free speech’ card to save itself from US ban, will it be enough?

Apr 22, 2024 10:06 AM IST

TikTok threatens to move the court after US House passed a bill to ban app if it doesn't dilute its stake within a year.

TikTok has voiced its concerns once again about a bill passed by the House of Representatives, which threatens to ban the popular social media platform in the U.S. unless its Chinese owner, ByteDance, sells its stake within a year.

TikTok threatens to move the court after US House passed a bill to ban app if it doesn't dilute its stake within a year.(REUTERS)
TikTok threatens to move the court after US House passed a bill to ban app if it doesn't dilute its stake within a year.(REUTERS)

The House approved the legislation on Saturday with a significant majority of 360 to 58. Now, the bill heads to the Senate, where it could be voted on in the coming days. President Joe Biden has previously indicated his inclination towards putting a stop on TikTok.

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Also Read: Why is US planning to ban Tiktok?

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, as well as officials in the Biden administration, argue that TikTok poses national security risks due to fears that China could force the company to share data from its 170 million U.S. users.

By including TikTok in a broader foreign aid package, lawmakers aim to expedite the process of potentially banning the app, after a previous standalone bill faced obstacles in the Senate.

TikTok calls move to ban platform, ‘attempt to suppress free speech’

In response, TikTok criticized the House's move, labeling it as an attempt to suppress the free speech rights of millions of Americans under the guise of important foreign and humanitarian assistance.

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the U.S. economy, annually,” a TikTok spokesperson said Saturday.

This is not the first time TikTok has raised concerns about legislative attempts to curb its operations. The company had previously condemned a similar bill that stalled in the Senate, arguing that it would infringe on the rights of its users.

Highlighting the bipartisan opposition to the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union has also expressed reservations about its impact on free speech.

TikTok maintains its stance that it has never shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government and vows never to do so. “This is an unprecedented deal worked out between the Republican Speaker and President Biden,” Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas, said in a memo to TikTok’s US staff. “At the stage that the bill is signed, we will move to the courts for a legal challenge.”

Clamour against TikTok in US

However, Democratic Senator Mark Warner, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned of TikTok's potential as a propaganda tool for the Chinese government, given its wide reach among young Americans.

Amidst concerns about national security, some experts argue that the bill may not achieve its intended goals. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University criticized the bill, suggesting that it may not effectively prevent China or other adversaries from accessing Americans' data.

In light of these concerns, some Democrats have called for alternative measures, such as stronger data privacy legislation, rather than an outright ban on TikTok.

What are the options for TikTok?

The House's decision to give ByteDance a deadline to divest its U.S. assets underscores the urgency felt by lawmakers regarding TikTok's operations in the country. The latest bill extends this deadline to nine months, with a possible three-month extension if progress is made toward a sale.

Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell has expressed support for the bill, following earlier calls for revisions to the initial legislation.

The issue of TikTok ownership was also discussed during a recent call between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, underscoring the significance of the matter in U.S.-China relations.

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    Vertika Kanaujia is Editor Audience Growth at Hindustan Times and oversees the website’s coverage of business news, health, technology and internet culture. She is a Chevening Scholar and a Columbia Journalism University Fellow. Vertika has been a journalist for more than 18 years. After starting her career as a business journalist in TV she has worked with various leading news channels. You can email her at vertika.kanaujia@htdigital.in.

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