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US House passes bill that could force TikTok ban

Published March 13, 2024last updated March 13, 2024

Lawmakers backed a bill that would ban TikTok in the US if Chinese company ByteDance refuses to sell its stake in the short video app. Proponents of the bill say TikTok is a security threat, alleging ties with Beijing.

A person holding a phone with the TikTok logo
The proposed bill is a response to security concerns in Washington about the app's Chinese ownershipImage: Omar Marques/SIOA/Zuma/dpa/picture alliance

The US House of Representatives has overwhelmingly backed a law that would give TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance six months to sell the app's US assets or see it banned.

The bill was heavily backed, with 352 lawmakers in favor and just 65 against.

The measure comes amid concerns that the firm's Chinese ownership could pose a threat to US national security.

Roughly 170 million TikTok users in the US

Later in the day, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said the company would do everything it can, including pursuing legal rights, to prevent a ban in the US.

If, however, the bill did manage to pass the Senate and then got signed into law, that would "lead to a ban on TikTok in the US," he said.

Short-video platform TikTok is hugely popular with young people and has an estimated 170 million users in the US.

What does the bill aim to do?

Lawmakers supporting the bill allege that ByteDance is beholden to China's Communist Party, which they fear could demand access to the data of US users.

The bill, officially called the "Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act," requires ByteDance to relinquish its interest within 180 days.

Failure to comply would result in TikTok being barred from Apple and Google app stores in the US.

The legislation would also give the president power to designate other apps to be a national security threat if under the control of a country considered to be adversarial to the US.

What happens next?

While the bill passed easily in the House, its fate is less certain in the Senate. 

The White House has said that US President Joe Biden would sign the bill into law if it's approved by Congress. A White House spokesperson said Biden is urging the Democrat-controlled Senate to take swift action on the bill. 

A girl watching video on TikTok on her iPhone
TikTok is used by around 170 million Americans and is particularly popular with young peopleImage: Robin Utrecht/picture alliance

It's not the first time the US has tried to crack down on TikTok. In 2020, an attempt by former President Donald Trump to ban the app was blocked by the courts after TikTok sued, citing free speech concerns.

"We have given TikTok a clear choice... separate from your parent company ByteDance, which is beholden to the CCP [the Chinese Communist Party], and remain operational in the United States, or side with the CCP and face the consequences," said Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Wednesday. 

However, critics have said if the bills passes in the Senate, it will likely be challenged for years in courts on the basis of free speech protections enshrined in the US Constitution.

How has TikTok responded?

A TikTok spokesperson called the bill a "ban" and appealed to lawmakers in the Senate not to rush the process.

"We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, seven million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service," the spokesperson said.

TikTok has strongly denied any ties to the Chinese government. Its CEO Shou Zi Chew was in Washington on Wednesday in a bid to shore up support to block the bill. The company also says it has undergone a restructure so that the data of US users does not leave the country.

Meanwhile, Beijing warned the move would "inevitably come back to bite" the US.

"Although the United States has never found evidence that TikTok threatens US national security, it has not stopped suppressing TikTok," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, condemning what he described as "bullying behavior."

US passes bill that could force TikTok ban

rm, nm/wmr, jsi (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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