TikTok has been accused of forcing some of its US users to call their representatives in Congress about the proposed new law that could see the social media app banned in the country. That's just not true, TikTok insists, though it has been encouraging its users to put pressure on political decision makers, telling them to phone their representatives. 

TikTok and its owner ByteDance are likely going into lobbying overdrive given just how fast the new legal proposals seem to be passing through Congress. 

They were only introduced into the House Of Representatives last week, were immediately passed unanimously by a relevant committee, and will now go before the full House for a vote this week. That said, utilising its users as a campaign tool doesn’t seem to be working for TikTok, which will likely have more success trying to block the proposals through the courts on free speech grounds. 

"This effort by ByteDance validated the Congressman's concerns", a spokesperson for representative Neal Dunn told the BBC, when asked about the flood of calls the Florida-based Congress member has received from TikTok users. 

"American phones were geolocated and TikTok users were locked out of the platform until they called their members of Congress”, they said. “ByteDance weaponised the app against America and that is exactly why the Congressman supports this measure". 

The office of South Dakota representative Dusty Johnson added, "We've gotten calls from people who are angry and screaming; some people who are asking kindly if TikTok is going to be banned; and some have said TikTok wouldn't let them on the app without calling their [representative]".

TikTok has been sending US users a notification urging them to "call your representative now" about the proposals, known as the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. The TikTok app seemingly provided users with a direct link for calling their local representatives. However, those who said use of the app was conditional on making a call seemingly missed the two options that were provided for dismissing the notification. 

The act, if passed, would give China-based ByteDance six months to sell TikTok, otherwise distribution of the app would be banned across the US. It's the latest in a number of proposals to ban TikTok based on fears that the Chinese government has access to US user-data via ByteDance. TikTok has repeatedly denied that is the case, insisting US user data is stored on US-based servers managed by US company Oracle. 

The proposals were passed unanimously by the House Energy And Commerce Committee on Thursday, after which House Majority Leader Steve Scalise declared, "I will bring this critical national security bill to the House floor for a vote next week". US President Joe Biden is also a supporter of the bill, telling reporters on Friday, "If they pass it, I'll sign it". 

Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump - despite having also tried to ban TikTok when President - has criticised the latest moves, mainly on the basis the ban would give more power to the real enemy, Mark Zuckerberg and Meta. "If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business", he wrote on his own social platform Truth Social. "I don't want Facebook, who cheated in the last election, doing better. They are a true enemy of the people!"

Some wondered if that would negatively impact the bill’s bipartisan support, but the Republicans remain on board and the proposals still seem to be gaining momentum in Congress ahead of the planned vote this week. Indeed, the bill is seemingly being fast-tracked for a full vote because it is felt there is overwhelming support for the proposals. 

TikTok’s lobbyists and lawyers are obviously pulling out all the stops to try and scupper the planned new laws, which would still need to be passed by the Senate. Rallying users is part of that, obviously. But, according to the BBC's report, that particular tactic - while resulting in a flood of phone calls - isn't having the desired effect. Partly because too many people are basically saying "TikTok told me to call you" or, even worse, "TikTok forced me to call you". 

Meanwhile, TikTok’s lawyers will be brushing up on their First Amendment arguments, hoping that - should it pass Congress - the act could still be stalled in the courts on free speech grounds, as happened with Trump's ban and attempts to outlaw TikTok in the US state of Montana. 

The act's supporters in Congress say the proposals have been carefully worded in a way that circumvents free speech issues, but plenty of legal experts reckon, despite those efforts, there is still a solid argument that the proposed ban is unconstitutional. 

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