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House passes bill that could ban TikTok

Its future in the Senate is uncertain.

Anadolu via Getty Images

A bill that could force a sale or outright ban on TikTok passed the House just days after it was first introduced. The House of Representatives approved the measure Wednesday, in a vote of 352 - 65, in a rare showing of bipartisan support. It now goes to the Senate.

If passed into law, the legislation would give parent company ByteDance a six-month window to sell TikTok or face a ban from US app stores and web hosting services. While the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” is far from the first effort to force a ban or sale of TikTok, it’s been able to draw more support far more quickly than previous bills.

The measure cleared its first procedural vote in the House last week, just two days after it was introduced. The bill will now move onto the Senate, where its future is less certain. Senator Rand Paul has said he would block the bill, while other lawmakers have also been hesitant to publicly back the bill.

TikTok has called the bill unconstitutional and said it would hurt creators and businesses that rely on the service. "This process was secret and the bill was jammed through for one reason: it's a ban," a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement following the House vote. "We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service."

Last week, the company sent a wave of push notifications to users, urging them to ask their representatives to oppose the bill. Congressional staffers reported that offices were overwhelmed with calls, many of which came from confused teenagers. Lawmakers later accused the company of trying to “interfere” with the legislative process.

Free speech and digital rights groups also oppose the bill, with many noting that comprehensive privacy laws would be more effective at protecting Americans’ user data rather than a measure that primarily targets one app. Former President Donald Trump, who once also tried to force ByteDance to sell TikTok, has also said he is against the bill, claiming it would strengthen Meta.

In a letter to lawmakers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Fight for the Future and the Center for Democracy and Technology argued that the bill would “set an alarming global precedent for excessive government control over social media platforms” and would likely “invite copycat measures by other countries … with significant consequences for free expression globally.”

If the bill were to muster enough votes to pass the Senate, President Joe Biden says he would sign the bill into law. His administration has previously pressured ByteDance to sell TikTok. Officials maintain the app poses a national security risk due to its ties to ByteDance, a Chinese company. TikTok has repeatedly refuted these claims.

If the law was passed, the company would likely mount a legal challenge like it did in Montana, which passed a statewide ban last year. A federal judge temporarily blocked the ban in November before it could go into effect.

Update March 13, 2024, 12:32PM ET: This story has been updated to add a statement from a TikTok spokesperson.