US will ‘trample’ free speech with TikTok ban, says app

Alex Omenye
Alex Omenye

TikTok has reiterated its concerns regarding freedom of speech in response to a bill approved by the House of Representatives, aiming to prohibit the popular social media platform in the U.S. unless its Chinese owner, ByteDance, divests its stake within a year.

The House passed the legislation on Saturday with a significant margin of 360 to 58. The bill is now headed to the Senate, where it may be put to a vote in the coming days. President Joe Biden has previously indicated his support for the bill targeting TikTok.

Numerous U.S. lawmakers across party lines and the Biden administration have voiced concerns over TikTok, citing potential national security threats due to fears that China could compel the company to share data from its 170 million U.S. users.

Including TikTok in a broader foreign aid package could expedite the process of potentially banning the app, especially after a previous standalone bill faced obstacles in the Senate.

TikTok expressed disappointment with the House’s actions, criticizing the bill’s infringement on the free speech rights of millions of Americans. This sentiment echoes their previous opposition to similar legislation and state-level bans, which they argue violate the First Amendment.

The American Civil Liberties Union also opposed the House bill on grounds of free speech. TikTok maintains its stance that it has never shared U.S. data and pledges not to do so in the future.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner emphasized TikTok’s potential as a tool for Chinese propaganda and data harvesting, highlighting the risks to national security.

Concerns were also raised by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, arguing that the bill’s efficacy is questionable, as adversaries could still obtain American data through other means.

Some Democrats raised concerns about the bill’s impact on free speech and advocated for stronger data privacy laws instead. Democratic Representative Ro Khanna suggested that a TikTok ban might not withstand legal challenges, citing constitutional protections for free speech.

The House initially gave ByteDance six months to divest TikTok’s U.S. assets on March 13. The latest legislation extends the deadline to nine months, with a possible three-month extension based on presidential evaluation of sale progress.

Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, expressed support for the updated bill, having requested revisions to the March 13 version. TikTok was also discussed during a recent call between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, where Biden expressed concerns over the app’s ownership.

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