Senate Vote On TikTok Ban Bill Blocked Over Free Speech Concerns Amid Continued Bipartisan Scrutiny

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Photo Credit: Collabstr

As TikTok grapples with continued user-data criticism and regulatory scrutiny, a Senate vote to ban the controversial video-sharing platform has been blocked.

This newest development in the long-running push to prohibit TikTok in the U.S. – one of many countries where the social media app cannot be used on government devices – just recently came to light. Of course, the ByteDance-owned service, through which many songs have been popularized (or re-popularized), has for years faced opposition over its alleged security shortcomings.

But the criticism has ramped up as of late, following reports that employees of the app’s Beijing-headquartered parent company had improperly accessed account information and spied on stateside journalists. Numerous government officials have spoken out against the service, and multiple lawmakers (from both sides of the aisle) are attempting to outlaw the platform altogether in the U.S.

One of these lawmakers, Senator Josh Hawley, announced in January that he would introduce legislation to bar TikTok’s use domestically, citing its alleged threat to “our children’s privacy as well as their mental health.”

As mentioned at the outset, the senator – whose “No TikTok On Government Devices” bill became law near 2022’s conclusion and went into effect in March – just recently called for a vote on the legislation concerning the countrywide ban. (Senator Hawley also voiced his opposition to the comparatively far-reaching RESTRICT Act, which he says would “give new open-ended authority to federal bureaucrats.”)

“And now we must take the next step to ban TikTok nationwide, to protect the security of every single American whose personal lives, whose personal data, whose personal security is in danger from the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

“And it’s time to act now because we’ve seen just in the last week, the TikTok CEO come before the United States Congress and confirm that the reasons we acted four months ago [on the aforesaid government ban] were right and valid. And that the need at this hour is urgent,” the senator explained.

Senator Hawley likewise drew attention to troubling reports that TikTok tracks users’ keystrokes on and off the app, monitors users’ physical locations, and spies on journalists, besides highlighting ByteDance’s seemingly close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the requirement (under Chinese law) that the company must turn over information to Beijing when ordered to do so.

“Years ago, the last administration tried to ban TikTok for all of these same national-security reasons that led us as a Congress to ban it on federal devices. This has been a long time coming; there’s no rush to judgement here. This is what administration after administration has concluded. That it’s time to take action.”

Later, the senator communicated: “But the First Amendment does not protect the right to spy on American citizens. It does not protect espionage. It does not protect what the Chinese Communist Party is trying to do in harvesting the data of millions of Americans.”

Also as highlighted at the outset, Senator Rand Paul blocked Senator Hawley’s formal request for a vote on the bill, expressing the belief that a full-scale TikTok ban would constitute a violation of the First Amendment.

“There are two main reasons why we might not want to do this,” said Senator Paul. “The one would be the First Amendment to the Constitution. Speech is protected whether you like it or not. The second reason would be that the Constitution actually prohibits bills of attainder. You’re not allowed to have a specific bill against a person or a company. So this fails on two egregious points, pretty obvious points, and I think we ought to think about that.”

Additionally, Senator Paul spoke of the perceived pitfalls of different legislation that would (among other things) ban TikTok and maintained that “every accusation of data gathering that’s been attributed to TikTok could also be attributed to domestic big-tech companies.” (Senator Hawley responded to these comments, elaborating upon his own above-transcribed remarks about the First Amendment.)

Notwithstanding this disagreement and the blocked vote, evidence suggests that TikTok – which is still being investigated in the House and is reportedly dealing with a forced-sale order from the White House – is far from out of the woods in the U.S.

Arkansas is now levying multiple lawsuits against the platform (as well as a single complaint against Meta) for allegedly exposing children to explicit content; Indiana took legal action against ByteDance and TikTok for similar reasons towards 2022’s end.

And specifically on the music side, the platform remains engaged in licensing negotiations with the Big Three labels. A report this week indicated that TikTok’s attempt to demonstrate its limited reliance on popular music had resulted in a usership decline in Australia.