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This Is The Beginning Of The End Of TikTok

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a massive foreign aid package that included an ultimatum for TikTok: Divest or be banned from operating within the US. The package was approved by the House of Representatives on Saturday, and President Joe Biden said that he intends to sign the bill on Wednesday.

“Even as our social media platforms have fumbled in their response to foreign influence operations, there was never any concern that these platforms are operating at the direction of foreign adversaries,” Mark Warner, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said ahead of the vote on Tuesday. “I cannot say the same for TikTok.”

For more than four years, Congress has threatened to ban TikTok, citing potential risks to national security. Last month, the House approved a separate divestiture bill, but the measure stalled out in the Senate after lawmakers like Senator Maria Cantwell argued that giving TikTok six months to find a new owner was too little time. The new bill extends the deadline for up to an additional six months, giving TikTok a year to sell.

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign aid and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans,” TikTok said in a statement shortly after Saturday’s vote. The company did not immediately respond to the Senate’s vote on Tuesday.

The effort to ban TikTok has become politically fraught, especially as more politicians join the platform to campaign in the 2024 election. For years, the Biden administration and campaign avoided creating their own accounts on the app, opting to build out a network of influencers to fill the void. But in February, Biden’s reelection campaign joined TikTok. In March, Biden told reporters that he would sign the bill.

Responding to this revived divestment effort, former president Donald Trump blamed Biden for attacks against the app. “Just so everyone knows, especially the young people, Crooked Joe Biden is responsible for banning TikTok,” Trump wrote on Truth Social on Monday. “He is the one pushing it to close, and doing it to help his friends over at Facebook become richer and more dominant, and able to continue to fight, perhaps illegally, the Republican Party.”

The Trump administration was the first to go after TikTok. In 2020, Trump signed a series of executive orders banning apps like TikTok, Alipay, and WeChat. Court challenges prevented these orders from going into place. Last year, Montana lawmakers voted to ban the app, but a federal judge blocked the law from taking effect, saying that it “likely violates the First Amendment.” After the bill passed the House on Saturday, the company’s head of public policy, Michael Beckerman, told staff in an email that if the bill were signed into law, “we will move to the courts for a legal challenge.”

Many lawmakers have cited national security and data privacy concerns as their primary motivation for supporting the bill.

“Congress is not acting to punish ByteDance, TikTok or any other individual company,” Democratic senator Maria Cantwell, said in a floor speech on Tuesday. “Congress is acting to prevent foreign adversaries from conducting espionage, surveillance, maligned operations, harming vulnerable Americans, our servicemen and women, and our U.S. government personnel.”

Critics of a ban have long argued that passing a sweeping data privacy bill could satisfy most of the complaints lawmakers have over TikTok’s security, as well as those posed by US-based companies.

“Congress could pass comprehensive consumer privacy legislation, which would, I think, take more meaningful steps toward addressing a lot of the data privacy concerns that have been raised about TikTok,” says Kate Ruane, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Free Expression Project. “And I do not think that there is public evidence that is currently available to demonstrate that extreme, serious, immediate harm exists.”