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US House committee moves to force TikTok divestiture amid user backlash

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A U.S. House committee has unanimously passed legislation aiming to compel ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, to divest the social media giant, amid a tidal wave of protest from the app’s vast user base, according to recent Semafor reporting. The proposed bill, sparking heated debates and a flood of phone calls to congressional offices, underscores the growing tension between national security concerns and digital freedom of expression.

Following TikTok’s appeal to its users to voice their opposition to the bill, House congressional aides reported an overwhelming response, with offices receiving up to 50 calls. Disturbingly, the intensity of the backlash reached a peak with a reported threat of suicide if the app were banned, reflecting the profound impact TikTok has on its community. Despite this, the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced the bill in a decisive 50-0 vote, highlighting the bipartisan concern over the national security implications of Chinese ownership of the app, which boasts 170 million American users.

The bill, championed by Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), has rapidly garnered support from both the White House and Speaker Mike Johnson, citing the necessity to protect Americans from potential adversarial control. TikTok, however, has condemned the legislation, claiming it infringes on Americans’ constitutional rights to free expression and threatens the livelihoods of millions of creators and businesses that rely on the platform.

Accusations of interference and the legislative response

Gallagher’s remark that the flood of calls from TikTok users “almost proves the point” underscores the lawmakers’ view that the platform’s campaign against the bill exemplifies the potential for foreign influence and interference, further solidifying their resolve. This perspective is shared by a diverse coalition of supporters, including conservative groups like Heritage Action and human rights organizations concerned with abuses by the Chinese government.

This legislative effort follows previous attempts to address the national security concerns posed by TikTok, which faltered amid debates over free speech implications. The current bill aims to circumvent these issues, yet the passionate response from the TikTok community indicates a potentially protracted struggle over its future. With the Biden administration’s recent engagement with TikTok for campaign purposes, despite acknowledging the app’s security risks, the debate over TikTok’s place in American society and politics is set to intensify.

Warnings from top U.S. security officials about the risks posed by TikTok’s potential for foreign influence and surveillance have persisted. While TikTok has attempted to assuage these fears by storing American user data domestically, the possibility of data being compelled by the Chinese government remains a contentious point, underscored by ByteDance’s admission of using TikTok to spy on journalists.

The post US House committee moves to force TikTok divestiture amid user backlash appeared first on ReadWrite.

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