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US House to Vote on TikTok Divestment, But Senate View Unknown

FBI and intelligence chiefs say Chinese ownership of the app is a worry; some lawmakers think the bill will be approved, but the Senate’s position is unclear

TikTok app logo is seen in this illustration
The TikTok app has allegedly been downloaded 3.5 billion times, and while it's making a truckload of money, it's also been hit with bans in many countries (Reuters image from 2022).


US lawmakers are expected to vote on Wednesday on a new bill that would require Chinese tech giant Bytedance to divest its popular short-video app TikTok within six months – or face a ban in the United States.

FBI, Justice and intelligence officials held a classified briefing on the matter for House members on Tuesday – during which they warned that China could use TikTok to influence the outcome of the ballot in November.

Asked by Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi if China’s ruling Communist Party (CCP) would use TikTok to influence the election, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said: “We cannot rule out that the CCP would use it.”


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The vote, expected at around 10am, is under fast-track rules that require support by two-thirds of House members for the measure to pass.

It comes just over a week since the bill was proposed and after one public hearing with little debate. The House Energy and Commerce Committee last week voted 50-0 in favour of the bill, setting it up for a vote before the full House.

The vote will be closely watched, as the app is popular and used by about 170 million Americans.

“We’ve answered a lot of questions from members. We had a classified briefing today. So that members can see even more details about what’s at risk and how the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) can jeopardize the risk to American families,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, said.


TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew testifies on Capitol Hill
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew spoke at a House hearing in March 2023 (Reuters).

TikTok says move is a ban, not a sale

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday on a previously scheduled trip to talk to senators, a source briefed on the matter said.

Chew says TikTok has not and would not share US user data with the Chinese government. His company claims the House bill amounts to a ban.

“This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States,” it said. “The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression,” it added.

It is not clear if China would approve any sale or if TikTok could be divested in six months.

FBI director Christopher Wray, who spoke at yesterday’s House hearing, repeated his assessment that TikTok poses national security threats.

“Americans need to ask themselves whether they want to give the Chinese government the ability to control access to their data,” Wray said, adding that it could ultimately “compromise their devices.”


Uncertainty on Senate view of bill

Some opponents of the legislation, including Democratic Representative Maxwell Frost, think the bill will pass in the House. Frost said many lawmakers who will vote for the bill are motivated by a desire to protect users, which he supports. Frost was among four lawmakers out of the 432-member House that held a press conference opposing the bill.

“The problem is the process here, the fact that it’s been steamrolled and people really can’t digest the consequences,” Frost said. “I would like to see TikTok ownership changed, but not at the expense of our First Amendment rights, business owners and content creators.”

However, the fate of the legislation is uncertain in the US Senate, where some senators want to take a different approach.

President Joe Biden said last week that he would sign the bill.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday that the goal is ending Chinese ownership – not banning TikTok.

“Do we want TikTok, as a platform, to be owned by an American company or owned by China? Do we want the data from TikTok – children’s data, adults’ data – to be going, to be staying here in America or going to China?”

The bill would give ByteDance 165 days to divest TikTok. If it failed to do so, app stores operated by Apple, Alphabet’s Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump sought to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat but was blocked by the courts. In recent days he had raised concerns about a ban.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard


Note: The top photo on this report was changed on March 13, 2024.




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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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