House Passes TikTok Ban Bill: What It Means for TikTok Users

Smartphone displaying the tiktok logo centered on the screen, flanked by the us flag on the left and the chinese flag on the right, against a vibrant, blurred background.

The House of Representatives, led by a Republican majority, passed legislation on Saturday that will ban the popular social media app TikTok in the United States if its Chinese owner does not sell its stake in the next year.

The TikTok ban, part of a larger foreign aid package, will go to the Senate. If passed there, it will then land on President Biden’s desk. The package includes support for Ukraine and Israel and is a public priority for Biden and other leading Democrats. The Senate is expected to pass the bill, although it may include some adjustments.

This latest measure follows an earlier attempt to force ByteDance Ltd. to sell off its interest in TikTok, which also passed the House before stalling in Senate.

Like that earlier legislation, the new one received overwhelming bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. The new measure passed through the House by a 360 to 58 vote — margins not often seen in the heavily polarized House.

The exterior of a bytedance office building at twilight, featuring the company's logo illuminated in blue and white lights on a modern facade.
ByteDance’s Beijing headquarters

Even though the bill has passed the House and is expected to pass the Senate, its path through Congress is but one hurdle. TikTok’s parent company is expected to present legal challenges to any legislation that forces it to sell its share in the platform.

“We will not stop fighting and advocating for you,” said TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew in a video posted on TikTok last month. “We will continue to do all we can, including exercising our legal rights, to protect this amazing platform that we have built with you.”

Following the House’s vote on Saturday, TikTok released a new statement on Sunday, emphasizing the threat to free speech that a forced sale may pose.

A man and a woman sitting on a sofa, each using their smartphones. the man's phone, held in his hand, displays the tiktok logo on its screen. focus on the man's phone screen.

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans,” TikTok explains in a statement.

This echoes the company’s stance on state-level attempts to ban or curtail access to TikTok when ByteDance also relied on First Amendment-type arguments.

The American Civil Liberties Union agrees with ByteDance, having urged Senate to reject the TikTok bill in March.

“Make no mistake: the House’s TikTok bill is a ban, and it’s blatant censorship. Today, the House of Representatives voted to violate the First Amendment rights of more than half of the country. The Senate must reject this unconstitutional and reckless bill,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at ACLU, in March.

The united states capitol building illuminated at night, reflected perfectly in the calm waters of a pool, with surrounding trees in early twilight.

Unsurprisingly, lawmakers in favor of forcing China-based ByteDance to sell its stake in TikTok argue that the move has little to do with censorship and free speech but is concerned entirely with national security. This is something legislators have been trying to achieve for more than a year.

However, given that some bill proponents, such as Democratic Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, argue that TikTok can be leveraged as a propaganda tool by the Chinese government, especially against young Americans, the issues of national security and free speech are clearly intertwined.

Legal experts expect that if challenged, lawmakers may struggle to defend their bill. They must show that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, does pose a legitimate national security threat and that any potential First Amendment violations are due to provable government interests. Lawmakers must also demonstrate that their legislation is very narrowly focused to deal only with these concerns if they can be established.

Democratic Representative Ro Khanna has expressed doubt that a TikTok ban could survive legal challenges.

In any event, the groundwork for a TikTok ban has passed its first test — getting House support. Even if the measure receives Senate approval and is signed into law by the President, it will still be some time before TikTok is sold or taken offline in the U.S.

Image credits: Photos licensed via Depositphotos.