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House passes bill that could ban TikTok

House passes bill that could ban TikTok

Opponents spanning the political spectrum raise concerns over privacy, freedom of expression, and rushed process.

Reporting | QiOSK

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that could lead to the banning of video sharing platform TikTok. The legislation, which passed by a vote of 352-65, would require the Chinese tech company ByteDance to divest its holdings in the social media platform, or see TikTok be banned from U.S. app stores.

The bill was widely expected to pass after it made its way through a House Committee on Energy and Commerce committee markup by a unanimous 50-0 vote last week. But opposition to the legislation gained some steam in recent days, with lawmakers spanning the political spectrum expressing concerns over the rushed process, possible first amendment violations, and privacy.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) entered a briefing from the Biden administration yesterday “open” to supporting the legislation, which the president has said he will sign if it reaches his desk. But according to NBC News’ Sahil Kapur, Pocan found the briefing “so uncovincing” and he eventually voted against it. “"It's very big brother-ish,” Pocan said.

In the end, 50 Democrats and 15 Republicans opposed the legislation. An overwhelming majority of Republicans supported the bill despite last-minute opposition from former president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump.

Supporters of the bill say that it would allow the president to designate certain social media apps and websites that are owned by foreign adversaries as a national security threat. But many Republicans who spoke during the floor debate argued that it was a way to increase the power of the national security state.

“[Supporters of the bill have] described the TikTok application as a Trojan horse. But there are some of us who feel that, either intentionally or unintentionally, this legislation to ban TikTok is actually a Trojan horse,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said during a statement on the floor on Wednesday. “Some of us are concerned that there are First Amendment implications here. Americans have the right to view information. We don’t need to be protected by the government from information. [...] We also think it’s dangerous to give the president the power to decide what Americans can see on their phones and their computers.”

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), the ranking member of the House intelligence committee, agreed. “One of the key differences between us and those adversaries is the fact that they shut down newspapers, broadcast stations, and social media platforms,” he said in a statement shortly before voting. “We do not. We trust our citizens to be worthy of their democracy. We do not trust our government to decide what information they may or may not see.”

“Really what you're saying here is if you're not fully engaged with America's three-letter agencies in content moderation, we plan to TikTok you,” added Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio). “And this bill isn't just limited to TikTok. It's a coercive power that can be applied to others.”

Some progressive Democrats, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) spoke out against the rushed process, as the bill went from committee markup to floor vote within four days, arguing that more overarching data privacy laws were needed. “There are serious antitrust and privacy questions here, and any national security concerns should be laid out to the public prior to a vote,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a post on X.

“This is a blunt instrument for serious concerns, and if enacted, would mark a huge expansion of government power to ban apps in the future. Instead, we need comprehensive data privacy legislation, alongside thoughtful guardrails for social media platforms – whether those platforms are funded by companies in the PRC, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or the United States,” said Jacobs in a press release.

“We can’t credibly hold other countries to one set of democratic values while giving ourselves a free pass to restrict freedom of speech. The United States has rightly criticized others for censorship and banning specific social media platforms in the past,” she added. “Doing so ourselves now would tarnish our credibility when it matters most and trample on the civil liberties of 150 million Americans.”

The bill will next head to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. Following the vote, Senate Intelligence chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) and vice chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put out a statement endorsing the legislation, saying they were “encouraged” by the vote and “looked forward to working together to get this bill through the Senate and signed into law.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has so far not committed to bringing the legislation to the floor for a vote.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has vowed to work against any effort to push the bill through the Senate quickly, saying the bill “makes no sense whatsoever,” adding that it was a First Amendment violation. Paul blocked a similar effort to ban the app last year.

Rep. Thomas Massie speaks on House floor before vote. (Photo: C-SPAN)

Reporting | QiOSK
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