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TikTok Warns US House Bill Threatening App Ban Would “Suppress” Free Speech

TikTok has reiterated its concerns over the potential approval of a bill that could lead to the banning of the social media app in the United States, citing the infringement of “free speech” rights for American citizens, according to Reuters.

Expressing disappointment, TikTok stated, “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.”

The US House of Representatives approved a bill on April 20 that could potentially result in banning the widely used video-sharing platform if it fails to disassociate from its Chinese parent company, Bytedance. The bill garnered a significant majority with 360 votes in favor and 58 against.

The legislation is now slated to move to the Senate for further consideration, potentially facing a vote in the coming days. President Joe Biden has signaled his readiness to support the bill upon its arrival on his desk.

Concerns regarding TikTok’s ties to China have been raised by lawmakers from both parties, as well as the Biden administration, citing apprehensions about national security. There are fears that China could compel the company to share the data of its 170 million American users.

Incorporating TikTok into a broader foreign aid package, lawmakers aim to expedite the process of potentially banning the app, following hurdles encountered by a previous standalone bill in the Senate.

TikTok had previously criticized an earlier bill that failed to progress in the Senate, arguing that it would silence the voices of millions of Americans. Additionally, the platform opposed a state-level ban in Montana last year, citing violations of the First Amendment.

TikTok maintains that it has never shared American data and pledges not to do so in the future.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has highlighted concerns over TikTok potentially serving as a propaganda tool for the Chinese government, particularly among young users seeking news.

Criticism against the potential ban on TikTok has come from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), citing concerns over free speech rights. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has also criticized the latest bill, arguing that its efficacy is limited, as adversaries like China could still access American data through intermediaries and utilize US-based social media platforms for disinformation campaigns.

Some Democrats have questioned the constitutionality of a ban, advocating instead for robust data privacy laws.

The bill underwent amendments in its latest round, extending the deadline for ByteDance to divest TikTok’s US assets from six months to nine months, with a potential three-month extension subject to the president’s assessment of divestment progress.

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell expressed support for the latest bill after requesting revisions to certain aspects of the previous version. The ownership of TikTok was also a topic of discussion during a recent call between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, where Biden conveyed concerns about the app’s ownership.

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