House Committee Unanimously Advances TikTok Forced-Sale Bill Despite the App’s Aggressive Counteroffensive — Floor Vote Set for Next Week

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A bill that would effectively ban ByteDance from operating TikTok in the U.S. is making rapid progress in Congress. Photo Credit: Solen Feyissa

Despite an aggressive counteroffensive from TikTok, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has voted unanimously in favor of bipartisan legislation that would compel ByteDance to divest the short-form app. Now, the proposal is speeding toward an expected vote on the House floor next week.

We first reported on this latest bill targeting TikTok, which has for years grappled with data-policy and user-safety criticism, two days back. Introduced by Representatives Mike Gallagher and Raja Krishnamoorthi (who previously spearheaded similar legislative efforts involving TikTok), the measure at hand is entitled the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act.”

In brief, the bill would effectively outlaw any “foreign adversary controlled app” – including but perhaps not limited to TikTok – at both the app-store and web-hosting levels. Also described in the legislation are massive fines for related infractions as well as a way to avoid these and other obstacles for the companies behind adversary-controlled apps: finalizing a “qualified divestiture.”

For Beijing-based ByteDance, a forced stateside selloff of TikTok would essentially represent a ban – and, besides cutting off its access to a crucial market, could set the stage for regulatory measures in the EU (where the service is being investigated) and elsewhere.

The businesses’ concerns presumably entered high gear today, when, as mentioned, the Energy and Commerce Committee voted 50 to zero to advance the aforesaid bill. Far from sitting idly by amid this progress, however, TikTok according to reports and social media posts prompted its users to voice their less-than-thrilled feedback about the legislation.

To be sure, one screenshot of what appears the appropriate in-app page shows a “call now” button and a search box through which one could, by inputting a zip code, find the contact information for his or her representative. “Let Congress know what TikTok means to you and tell them to vote NO,” reads the on-screen text.

While the move failed to bring about the desired result for TikTok – which was previously slapped with multimillion-dollar fines for allegedly misusing children’s data – the response seems to underscore the bill’s relative gravity.

Moreover, Politico’s Olivia Beavers has shed light on the troubling content of many of the calls received by lawmakers from fired-up TikTokers. The deluge of nasty messages, the reporter indicated, had incensed “members who were on the fence” and potentially contributed to the unanimous vote.

Needless to say, the occurrence will do little to defuse longstanding arguments that TikTok, the parent of which is partially owned by the Chinese Communist Party, allegedly possesses undue cultural influence as well as an adjacent ability to spur pernicious behaviors and societal trends.

Expanding on the bill’s potential path forward, both House Speaker Mike Johnson and the White House have reportedly expressed support for the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. And Majority Leader Steve Scalise has said that he intends to “bring this critical national security bill to the House floor for a vote next week.”

Time will, of course, reveal the fate of the legislation, which, notwithstanding its seemingly strong momentum, is hardly the first bipartisan measure of this nature.

In any event, it goes without saying that a TikTok ban would, among many other things, rather decisively put an end to the ongoing Universal Music Group (UMG) dispute and other brewing showdowns. As it stands, the UMG confrontation could be driving a fundamental shift in the way music is licensed for UGC platforms and different services yet.