Apr 24, 2024 3 min read

The clock is now TikTokking as US Senate votes through sell-or-be-banned law

The law ordering ByteDance to sell TikTok or see the app banned in the US has been passed by both chambers of Congress. TikTok will now begin work trying to get the law overturned in the courts, while Donald Trump tries to use his opposition to it to connect with younger voters

The clock is now TikTokking as US Senate votes through sell-or-be-banned law

The US Senate yesterday passed the law that orders China-based ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a US-wide ban of the video-sharing app. The tactic of attaching the proposed law to a wider bill that also included aid packages for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan - so to force a speedy vote in the Senate - worked. 

President Joe Biden is now set to sign the bill into law at some point today. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is against the new law - despite having tried to ban TikTok himself when he was President - and is already trying to make a possible incoming TikTok ban a key issue in this year's US elections. 

Posting on his own social network Truth Social yesterday, Trump wrote, “Just so everyone knows, especially the young people, Crooked Joe Biden is responsible for banning TikTok. Young people, and lots of others, must remember this on 5 Nov, ELECTION DAY, when they vote!”  

The sell-or-be-banned law was motivated by concerns that the Chinese government has access to TikTok user data via ByteDance. Confirming her support for it, senator Maria Cantwell - Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, which had been scrutinising the proposals - said, “Congress is not acting to punish ByteDance, TikTok or any other individual company”. 

“Congress is acting to prevent foreign adversaries from conducting espionage, surveillance, maligned operations, harming vulnerable Americans, our servicemen and women, and our US government personnel”, she added. 

TikTok has vowed to fight the law in the courts, claiming that it is unconstitutional on free speech grounds. Though senator Marco Rubio has told reporters that he thinks those efforts will fail. “We're not banning a company”, he said, “we're not banning speech, we're banning the Chinese Communist Party controlled-entity from operating in the United States, and we've done that with Huawei, we've done that with ZTE, and we might have to do it with some more”. 

The House Of Representatives originally voted through the sell-or-be-banned law in March, but it wasn't clear how quickly the Senate would consider the proposal. Then the law was added to the wider bill that included the aid packages, which the House voted through over the weekend. 

In the original version of the law, ByteDance would have six months to sell TikTok to avoid the ban. Concerns were then raised in the Senate that it was unrealistic to expect a sale to be completed in that time. The new version of the law provides more time - 270 days with the option for the President to extend the deadline by 90 days - so just under a year. Though some critics argue that even that is unrealistic. 

It seems unlikely that ByteDance would just accept the ban and bail on the US market, where ad revenues topped $16 billion last year, though sources say that selling TikTok still remains a last resort option for ByteDance bosses. Not least because the sale would need government approval in China, which could prove tricky. 

When Trump tried to ban the app, the plan was to spin-off the US TikTok business, with ByteDance retaining control in the rest of the world. Though that approach would likely prove even more complex, making the twelve month deadline even harder to meet. 

The sell-or-be-banned law enjoyed cross party support in Congress, with the politically balanced Senate voting it through 79 in favour and 18 against. And the against votes included Rubio, who supports the TikTok measure but objected to it being attached to the aid packages. 

Nevertheless, the law seems set to become a talking point during this year's Presidential election, because of Trump's current position. With TikTok planning to fight the law in the courts and any subsequent sale likely to be complex, the future of TikTok in the US will definitely still be topical as Americans go to the polls this autumn. 

Although he is now using his opposition to the TikTok ban as a way to connect with younger voters, Trump’s support of TikTok is really part of his ongoing beef with Facebook and Instagram owner Meta

Biden “is the one” pushing TikTok to close, his Truth Social rant continued, adding he is “doing it to help his friends over at Facebook become richer and more dominant, and able to continue to fight, perhaps illegally, the Republican Party”.

TikTok is yet to comment on yesterday's vote, though it continues to deny there are any data security issues on its platform in the US. 

When the latest bill was introduced into the House last week, a spokesperson for the company said, “It is unfortunate that the House Of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate seven million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the US economy, annually”.

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