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WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that would force TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, to divest its holdings of the popular social-media site or face an effective ban in the United States. The White House has indicated that President Biden will sign the legislation, which – after failing to move quickly through the Senate – was folded into a foreign-aid bill that included support for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

According to the bill, ByteDance must sell its TikTok shares within 270 days to a buyer that satisfies the U.S. government. If ByteDance refuses to sell, the government will prohibit cloud providers and app stores from distributing TikTok in the United States.

TikTok has approximately 170 million active monthly users in the United States alone and is especially popular with younger generations and people of color, who use TikTok to organize, communicate, educate and entertain.

Free Press Action Policy Counsel Jenna Ruddock said:

“If lawmakers want to rein in the harms of social-media platforms, targeting just one under the guise of national security ignores an entire industry predicated on surveillance capitalism. Like all popular platforms — including those that Meta and Google own — TikTok collects far too much user data. But banning a single platform will not address the privacy problem that’s rotting the core of the entire tech industry. At any given time, dozens of corporations are tracking us, analyzing our behavior and profiting off of our private information. An entire business sector is dedicated to harvesting our sensitive data, selling it both in the United States and abroad, where it’s used to discriminate, target people with unwelcome ads and political disinformation — and, potentially, pry into their personal lives.

“Singling out TikTok for privacy concerns, when so much personal information is available on the open market to U.S. law enforcement and foreign intelligence agencies alike, is a misguided detour from doing what’s needed to protect everyone’s digital rights. A sell-or-be-banned law targeting one platform runs afoul of the First Amendment and unilaterally closes off essential spaces for people to connect and communicate. The government should never have the right to cherry-pick the venues we use to explore new ideas. Many of the same lawmakers who passed this effective ban on TikTok are often heard decrying the rise of censorship. Such rhetoric gives a distinct whiff of hypocrisy to this latest legislative move. 

“TikTok users include a disproportionate number of younger people and people of color, who traditional media outlets too often ignore or neglect. Free Press Action will continue to fight for the free-speech rights of these and all other social-media users. Instead of banning TikTok, lawmakers should focus their energies on passing a federal privacy law that limits how all of these companies collect, store, analyze and sell our personal data.”


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