Legislation has advanced that could lead to US President Joe Biden implementing a nationwide ban on TikTok.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s 24 Republicans voted a bill through which could give the President powers to ban the video-sharing app over claims that it is a Chinese espionage tool, or any other app deemed a security risk.
However, the 16 Democrats voted against the bill with Ranking Member Gregory Meeks saying he opposed the legislation because it would “damage our allegiances across the globe, bring more companies into China’s sphere, destroy jobs here in the United States and undercut core American values of free speech and free enterprise” [via The Independent].
Members of both parties have called for a ban on TikTok on the basis of its Chinese ownership, which means the company is legally obliged to turn user data over to the Chinese government upon request.
The bill still needs to be passed by the full House of Representatives and the Senate before it goes to Biden and it officially becomes law. Foreign Affairs Committee chair Michael McCaul said he expects the full House to vote on the measure this month.
However, Jenna Leventoff, a senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, criticised the legislation in a statement.
“We’re disappointed that the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to approve a bill that would effectively ban TikTok in the United States, in violation of Americans’ First Amendment rights. We urge legislators to vote no on this vague, overbroad, and unconstitutional bill,” she said.
More than 30 American states, Canada, and the European Union have separately banned the app from use on government-owned devices over concerns it could be a security risk. India banned the app nationwide in January 2021, while Taiwan and Afghanistan did the same in 2022.
In response, a TikTok spokesperson said a ban on the app in the US would be “a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion people who use our service worldwide”. The company has previously denied accusations that it shares data with the Chinese government and that its data is not held in China. It also disputes accusations that it collects more user data than other social media companies, and insists that it is run independently by its own management.
However, it doesn’t appear that the UK is planning to follow suit at present. “We have no evidence to suggest that there is a necessity to ban people from using TikTok,” the UK’s secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, Michelle Donelan, told Politico. “That would be a very, very forthright move, that would require a significant evidence base to be able to do that.” [via The Guardian]
There has, however, been evidence that TikTok’s algorithm “bombards” teenagers with self-harm content and eating disorder content, according to a study by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate.