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How soon could TikTok actually be banned in the US?



In March, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that could lead to TikTok, the Chinese company owned by ByteDance, being banned in America. Today, April 24th, President Biden officially signed the bill to force a sale of the video app within the next year or face a permanent ban within the United States. However, the path to a ban is still not clear, and lawmakers will continue facing pushback — and not just from TikTok users.

When the ban was first introduced to the House of Representatives, the ACLU indicated its disagreement with the development, citing First Amendment concerns and the “millions of Americans who use the platform daily to communicate and stay informed.”

Why are lawmakers concerned? What  happens next? And how soon could a ban go into effect?

How and Why Are Lawmakers Trying to Ban TikTok?

While some members of the public are concerned about TikTok’s harmfulness to children, lawmakers’ primary motivation is security and intelligence. Some TikTok user data is stored in China, and international experts have said that the Chinese government could likely access that data. TikTok has been unavailable on US government devices since 2020.

The bill’s language is meant to pressure parent company ByteDance to divest themselves from TikTok. If passed, ByteDance will have one year to sell their popular product, and if they do not, the ban will go into effect one year from April 24th.

However, critics of the bill argue that these data concerns apply to pretty much every US tech platform, and at least some of our information is observed by America’s NSA. The last time conversations about banning the app rolled around, Caitriona Fitzgerald, Deputy Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, made her case with PBS, explaining, “TikTok is just one app in a vast, commercial surveillance ecosystem. TikTok, like most US tech companies, collects a huge amount of data about us both while users are on the app and via trackers on other websites, so they know what you’re reading outside the app.”

Would ByteDance Actually Sell TikTok?

China may not allow a sale. When this issue arose in 2020 during the Trump presidency, China re-tooled their content rules to ensure a place in the divestment conversation; more recently, China’s Ministry of Commerce promised to oppose US pressure on a sale.

And even if the state allowed it, ByteDance may not see much upside. While the US is their largest market, it is the only English-speaking country in the top ten. TikTok continues to see massive growth in places like Indonesia, Brazil, and even Russia, where it is currently banned but the ban is only lightly enforced.

This path is complicated by the fact that ByteDance also comes with a huge price tag — there really aren’t that many potential buyers floating around for a sale that could be in the tens of millions.

When Would TikTok Be Banned?

Currently, the law would allow TikTok to continue to operate in the United States if ByteDance sold it within 12 months. There’s a high likelihood of those aforementioned legal challenges coming to the forefront of the conversation — in the months (or even years) of debate, the app would, most likely, continue functioning for US users.

“We are confident and we will keep fighting for your rights in the courts,” said CEO Shou Chew. “The facts and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to prevail.”

What Could Delay TikTok from Being Banned in the US?

TikTok is very likely to seek an immediate court injunction to halt the ban. The US government may face a number of legal obstacles, not least from its own constitution. Whether or not the First Amendment protects the free speech of TikTok or its users would be hotly debated in court. The American Civil Liberties Union, which often uses lawsuits to promote an expansive vision of free speech, is already protesting the bill. In order to get a ban into effect, the government would need to make a very strong case for national security concerns.

Reporter Eriq Gardner pointed out that, on a state level, similar efforts have already failed, most recently when the state of Montana’s TikTok ban fizzled in the courts. As TikTok is a communicative platform that has transformed into a news source for many, it’s easy to argue that blocking access to the app falls under censorship.

While TikTok certainly has its insidious side (I’m thankful every day that “get ready with me” videos weren’t available when I was a pre-teen), it feels like there are more urgent issues our elected officials could be managing. Perhaps if you want people to vote for you, maybe don’t start with taking away the happy dance app.

This article was originally published in March and has been updated several times, most recently with the news that President Biden signed a foreign aid bill including language about a TikTok sale or ban.

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