TikTok ban opponents are pinning their hopes on the Senate

Opponents of legislation that could ban TikTok in the United States are pinning their hopes on the Senate as the House prepares to send a major foreign aid package to the Senate.

The legislation would force TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell the popular app or face a ban in the U.S., and it is part of a foreign aid bill that the House is expected to pass in a vote on Saturday.

The House has already passed similar legislation, but the new language differs from the previous measure in an important way.

It would extend the timeline for ByteDance to sell TikTok from six months to about a year, a change that led Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to support the bill.

The context of the legislation is also important. The House of Representatives passes the foreign aid package as a four-point bill, which will then be sent to the Senate as one measure. It will also include long-sought aid to Ukraine and Israel, and could put pressure on senators not to divide the package.

President Biden has already expressed support for the general measure and the TikTok provisions.

Despite these negative signs, TikTok, its passionate users, and some lawmakers appear ready to continue their crusade against the ban.

“I think people are just starting to activate,” TikTok user and small business owner Nadya Okamoto told The Hill on Friday.

Okamoto is the co-founder of period care brand August and a TikTok creator with 4.1 million followers. She led an open letter signed by other TikTok creators to Biden earlier this week, urging him to oppose the legislation.

Okamoto believes the pressure campaign is still growing and people are still reacting to the speed at which the new threat to the social media platform has emerged.

After the new legislation was released this week, there was a feeling of “Oh, shit, we have to take this seriously and we have to activate” within the TikTok community, she said.

TikTok had aggressively pushed against the ban after the House passed legislation earlier this year, doubling its ad spend to $4.5 million by the end of March, according to AdImpact data reported by CNBC. More than $2.5 million of that has gone to television ads, including one titled “Built A Life On TikTok,” in which a nun, a teacher, a farmer and other users lament the potential loss of the app.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), a staunch supporter of the ban, urged the House on Thursday to pass the updated TikTok bill.

“For years I have sounded the alarm about the powerful national security threat posed by TikTok, and I strongly support their divestiture of a company legally obligated to comply with the demands of the Chinese Communist Party,” Warner said.

Advocates say a ban is necessary to prevent the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from accessing U.S. user data, which they fear could be used to spy on users or manipulate their interests.

TikTok has strongly pushed back on accusations that the app poses a threat to national security and has blasted House leaders for adding the app to the border relief package.

“It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian aid to push through yet another prohibition bill that would trample the freedom of speech of 170 million Americans, destroy seven million businesses, and shut down a platform that contributes annually $24 billion will go into the American economy,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Hill.

The move to add the bill to the broader relief package also fuels criticism of the measure from opponents.

“I think a lot of the sentiment that I feel, and a lot of the creators I’ve talked to, is that it just feels very sneaky and a little bit deceptive to package these two completely unrelated things,” Okamoto said.

“It is not good to build trust in the system and in our representatives,” she said.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) called it a “backroom deal” and said he would not vote for the bill in a video posted to TikTok.

“They are linking a ban on TikTok to the foreign aid bill for aid to Ukraine. This makes no sense and I will vote no. Unfortunately, it appears the bill will pass the House and Senate and President Biden will sign it. This is what people hate about politics. We must stand up and oppose the ban on TikTok,” he said.

Opponents of the ban argue that lawmakers have provided no evidence that the Chinese government is weaponizing the app and that the bill infringes on the right to free speech.

“Long-standing Supreme Court precedent protects Americans’ right to access information, ideas and media from foreign countries. By banning TikTok, the bill would infringe on this right, and for no real gain. China and other foreign adversaries could still purchase Americans’ sensitive data from data brokers on the open market. And they could still wage disinformation campaigns using American-owned platforms,” Nadine Farid Johnson, policy director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said in a statement.

Jenna Leventoff, ACLU senior policy advisor for the First Amendment, said the extended time frame for the sale also does not significantly change concerns about the bill.

The updated text extends the period from 180 days to 270 days to sell TikTok, along with a 90-day extension that could be granted by the president.

“Given that the average time to sell a business is over a year, the new, longer timeline for a forced sale still does not guarantee enough time to find a buyer for such a large business, forcing a ban is just as likely as the previous one.” account. Congress cannot take away the rights of more than 170 million Americans who use TikTok to express themselves, engage in political advocacy, and access information from around the world,” Leventoff said in a statement.

Opponents say the fight will likely end up in court, like previous attempts under the Trump administration and in states to ban TikTok that have been blocked.

Some who criticized the bill took issue with it for just choosing TikTok. While the bill specifically mentions TikTok and ByteDance, it would give the president the authority to designate other apps controlled by China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as threats to national security.

“I’m very concerned about singling out one company and saying, there are issues with them collecting all of our private data and using it as they please, and allowing other companies to continue to engage in very similar behavior, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Thursday.

“I understand that we have particular concerns about China, but simply changing corporate ownership will not protect us from a foreign government that wants to use social media to harm our country,” she said.

Still, some Democratic senators indicated they were willing, like Cantwell, to support the legislation.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he has “some real concerns” about the bill but is “encouraged by the extended timeline” for the sale and “is considering supporting it.”

Mychael Schnell contributed.

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