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Here’s what you need to know about the potential TikTok ban

WASHINGTON — TikTok once again finds itself in a precarious situation as lawmakers in Washington advance a bill that could lead to a nationwide ban of the platform.

The House on Wednesday passed a bill that would ban TikTok unless its China-based owner ByteDance sells its stake in the popular social media platform within six months of the bill’s introduction.

Here’s what you need to know:

What’s in the parliamentary bill?

The legislation essentially gives ByteDance two options: sell TikTok or face being banned.

If ByteDance chooses to divest its shares, TikTok will continue to operate in the US if the President determines “through an interagency process” that the platform is “no longer controlled by a foreign competitor.” The bill would also require ByteDance to give up control of TikTok’s well-known algorithm that feeds content based on users’ preferences.

Experts said it would be difficult for ByteDance to sell TikTok in a few months.

Under the bill, if the company chooses not to sell, TikTok is expected to be banned from app stores, such as those offered by Apple and Google, as well as web hosting services until the divestiture occurs.

Why are lawmakers worried about TikTok?

Lawmakers from both parties, as well as law enforcement and intelligence officials, have long expressed concerns that Chinese authorities could force ByteDance to hand over data on the 170 million Americans who use TikTok. The concern stems from a series of Chinese national security laws that force organizations to help gather intelligence (to which ByteDance would likely be subject) and other far-reaching ways in which the country’s authoritarian government exercises control.

TikTok has denied allegations that it could be used as a tool of the Chinese government. The company said it has never shared U.S. user data with Chinese authorities and would not do so if asked. To date, the US government has not provided any evidence that TikTok shared such information with Chinese authorities.

Aside from security concerns, some lawmakers, researchers and TikTok critics argue that the app suppresses content unfavorable to Beijing, which TikTok denies. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence also warned in a report released Monday that the Chinese government used TikTok to influence the recent US election.

“TikTok accounts run by the PRC’s propaganda arm have reportedly targeted candidates from both political parties during the 2022 US midterm election cycle,” the report said.

Will TikTok shut down now?

No. The Senate must also pass the measure for it to become law. However, it is unclear what will happen in this parliament, where many bills aimed at banning TikTok are stalled. Senate lawmakers stated that this bill will undergo comprehensive review.

President Joe Biden has said he would sign the bill if lawmakers pass it. In such a case, ByteDance will have 180 days to sell TikTok to a qualified buyer.

The proposal could also be challenged in the courts by TikTok, which has filed suit against other attempts to ban the platform at both the national and state levels.

What happened to previous attempts to ban TikTok?
In 2020, former President Donald Trump attempted to ban the social media platform through an executive order. This was later blocked by the courts after TikTok sued.

The Trump administration also brokered a deal in 2020 that would see US companies Oracle and Walmart take a large stake in TikTok on national security grounds. However, the sale never materialized for various reasons; One of these was China, which imposed stricter export controls on technology providers.

The Biden administration rescinded Trump’s executive order but continued to review the platform by the secretive Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States; This was an in-house committee that reportedly threatened to ban TikTok last year if its Chinese owners did not divest their shares. The White House acknowledged last month that the review was ongoing.

Other efforts by federal lawmakers to enact nationwide bans were stalled last year by lobbying from TikTok as well as influencers and small businesses who use the platform. The American Civil Liberties Union and some digital rights groups have opposed the TikTok ban on free speech grounds, arguing that the latest House bill would violate the rights of Americans who rely on the app for information, advocacy and entertainment.

How are TikTok content creators reacting to the latest bill?

If the House bill becomes law, it would be bad news for small businesses that rely on the platform to market or sell products on TikTok Shop, the company’s e-commerce arm. This will also impact the lives of social media influencers who have spent years building their following on the platform and rely on it to generate brand deals or other forms of income.

Several TikTok influencers flew to Washington this week to join a lobbying effort by the company against the bill. Some said banning the app would disrupt their lives and businesses.

What about TikTok users?

TikTok sent a notice to some users last week asking them to call their representatives about the measure, which it described as a “shutdown of TikTok.”

The company told users that Congress was planning a “total ban” on the platform, which “could harm millions of businesses, destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country, and deny artists audiences.”

On Thursday, many users responded by flooding congressional offices with calls, leading some to turn off their phones.

Can I access TikTok if it is banned?

Experts say users will likely find ways around the ban.

App users may try using virtual private networks, or VPNs, to hide their location and bypass such restrictions, said Roger Entner, telecom analyst and founder of Recon Analytics. Entner said it would be difficult for the government to block this behavior, as there are many foreign VPN services that are not required to comply with U.S. law.

However, VPN use raises additional security questions, especially for users who opt for a free or cheap VPN provider that they have not carefully vetted.

AP journalist Matt O’Brien contributed to this report.

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