Bipartisan legislation targets ByteDance’s ownership

With broad bipartisan support, the United States House of Representatives passed the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” on March 13. The bill would force TikTok’s Chinese-owned parent company, ByteDance, to divest from the short-form video platform or cease the app’s operations in the United States. The Congressional action sparked a nationwide debate over the popular app and its ability to shape political narratives leading up to the 2024 election.

Despite TikTok having one of the largest user bases of any social media platform in the United States, ByteDance has been accused of working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and harvesting the data of American users. While the Beijing-based company has publicly denied that it is controlled by the CCP, leaks have revealed that ByteDance has engaged in mass collection of browsing histories, keystroke data, message drafts, and the text, images, and videos from the clipboards of its users’ devices.

Under the bill, it would become unlawful for internet hosting providers and app stores to enable the distribution or updating of applications deemed to be “foreign adversary controlled” within the U.S. This prohibition would go into effect 180 days after the legislation is enacted for ByteDance-owned apps like TikTok. 

The bill would give the president the authority to identify other apps presenting significant national security threats and prohibit transactions with those platforms after providing Congress 30 days notice.

The bill offers a path for apps to be exempted from the restrictions if the foreign ownership stake is divested through a process meeting particular criteria. The president has the ultimate authority to decide whether a company has successfully divested from a foreign adversary-controlled application.

Enforcement of the bill’s prohibitions would be handled through civil actions brought by the attorney general. The bill explicitly states that individual app users would not be subject to enforcement actions, as some critics fear.

While the legislation provides broad authority to restrict apps deemed national security threats, its sponsors emphasize that it is narrowly tailored to addressing the specific risks posed by TikTok. The bill does not propose a blanket ban on TikTok, as it allows for the app to continue operations, provided that ByteDance sufficiently severs their U.S. operation from foreign adversary control or influence.

As the proposal was weighed in Congress, it sparked a heated debate both in Congress and online over the future of TikTok and its role in American society. While the bill was under deliberation, TikTok sent its users a push notification claiming that “Congress is planning a total ban of TikTok.” It encouraged the platform’s users to speak up before the government “strips 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression and damage[s] millions of businesses, destroy[s] the livelihoods of countless creators across the country, and [denies] artists an audience.”

Surprisingly, TikTok received support from an unlikely source: Republican nominee and former President Donald Trump. Trump took to Truth Social and posted, “If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business. I don’t want Facebook, who cheated in the last Election, doing better. They are a true Enemy of the People!” 

Trump’s stance on the issue was surprising given his previous actions against the app. In 2020, the Trump administration issued executive orders that would have effectively banned TikTok in the United States due to similar national security concerns about the app’s Chinese ownership.

While both efforts share the goal of addressing national security risks, the current legislation takes a narrower approach. Trump’s original orders were much broader in scope, as they would have prohibited all U.S. transactions with ByteDance and its subsidiaries. The orders faced legal challenges from Tik”Tok and never took effect before Trump left office in 2021. In contrast, the bill passed by the House this month provides clearer off-ramps, such as data portability requirements and a divestiture process to allow TikTok to avoid an outright ban. 

Conservative reactions to the bill were mixed, with many viewing it as a necessary step to protect national security. Others questioned whether the proposed legislation was prudential in an election year. 

College Republicans President Elliot Anderson told the Rover, “The attacks on TikTok by Congress are a clear example of the hegemonic political establishment. Meta—including Facebook and Instagram—and Google collect and sell private information from consumers to the same degree as TikTok, yet they remain untouched due to their sizable lobbying efforts.”

Law student and College Republicans of America President Will Donahue said,“I think President Trump, who is doing remarkably well among young voters for a Republican, is smart to avoid taking away a really popular social media platform. He’s also likely correct that banning TikTok would drive more traffic to Instagram and Facebook, both of which contributed to a lot of misinformation and voter suppression in the last two elections.”

Donahue noted that the current approach of the House bill had some merit. “Legislative action is really the only way to deal with this. Former attempts by President Trump to ban TikTok via executive action were struck down as arbitrary and capricious; the courts have already spoken on the issue,” he added.

Although the House approved the bill by a large margin, it faces an uncertain path forward in the Senate. The legislation has so far been met with reluctance by Senate Majority Chuck Schumer, whose spokesman said he would consult with the chairs of relevant committees for further action. Even though his presidential campaign uses the platform heavily, President Biden expressed openness to banning the app if the bill reached his desk.

PJ Butler is a senior studying political science and theology. His favorite use of AI is writing Tucker Carlson monologues to describe the events of his personal life. You can reach him via email at

Photo Credit: Duane Lempke Photography, Wikimedia Commons.

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