President Biden supports bill that could make TikTok unavailable in the U.S.


WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Friday that he would sign a bill that could force TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance to divest the popular social media company or face a ban in the U.S.

“If they pass it, I’ll sign it,” Biden said, referring to bipartisan legislation that is on track to get a vote next week in the House. The bill, called the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, would need to pass the Senate as well before reaching Biden’s desk.

The legislation would allow the president, via the FBI and intelligence agencies, to name certain social media apps as national security threats if they are determined to be under the control of foreign adversaries. Apps deemed a risk would be banned from U.S. app stores unless they sever ties with foreign-controlled entities within 180 days.

Members of Congress have made clear that their intention is to force ByteDance to divest the app. Both parties have raised concerns about whether China can access U.S. user data, as well as TikTok’s effect on young people.

TikTok launched a lobbying campaign Thursday against the effort, sending notifications to some of its users claiming Congress is “planning a total ban” of the app and urging them to call their representatives. Some members of Congress, like Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., said they were inundated with calls from children and teenagers.

“We had kids, we had little children calling into our office and others basically saying questions like, ‘What is Congress? What is a congressman? Can I have my TikTok back?'”

While it is usually congressional staff members who answer phones, Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, said she joined the effort personally.

“Well, I kind of went into mom mode, right? Because I know that TikTok has really weaponized our young people,” Hinson said. “They filled them with propaganda and it was very, very clear that they proved our point to us. So I took it into my own hands, got on the phone and tried to explain to our young people why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Hinson, a co-sponsor of the bill along with Krishnamoorthi, said when she explained the legislation “to most of these kids, and they understood what was really at stake.” They then thanked her, she said.

Despite the calls to congressional offices, the bill passed unanimously out of the Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday, 50-0. It will go the the House floor next week under suspension of the rules, meaning it cannot be amended and it must get two-thirds support to pass.

Krishnamoorthi said that the call-in campaign “completely backfired” for TikTok and led to the unanimous committee passage. “We can’t have a foreign-controlled social media app pushing misinformation, certainly not to our children using their geolocation targeting data in the manner that they did,” he added.

The office of Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-C.A., received multiple calls from a “young individual” claiming to be the congressman’s child with an emergency, according to Enrique Gutiérrez, a spokesperson for Cárdenas.

“After multiple calls from this individual, and through other internal means we were able to determine it was a hoax,” Gutiérrez said. “Unfortunately, this incident happened to be during the time our office was receiving the hundreds of calls from this TikTok campaign.”

While Republican leaders in the House have signaled support for the legislation, Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., has not fully weighed in yet. He called the committee vote “impressive” and said he would have a conversation with top committee Democrats “about the way forward.”

In a statement Thursday, a TikTok spokesperson confirmed that the app sent a notification to U.S. users over the age of 18, arguing that “the government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression.”

The proponents of the effort maintain the bill is not a ban. “It’s just asking for divestment,” Hinson said. “And if everything goes as planned, then they can continue to put up their videos no matter how bad their dancing or cooking is.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com



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