March 8, 2024 - 2:20pm

The House of Representatives will soon vote on a bill that could effectively ban TikTok.

The legislation, which advanced out of committee stage on Thursday with a unanimous 50-0 vote, would ban the app throughout the US after 180 days unless its parent company, Chinese-owned ByteDance, divests it. The bill would also allow the executive branch to block access to apps owned by foreign adversaries over national security concerns.

TikTok’s national security threat has been a bipartisan concern for years. Dr Sumantra Maitra, Director of Research and Outreach at the American Ideas Institute, believes the effort to restrict TikTok is finally gaining steam because of the upcoming election.

“Given that there’s a huge chance of Trump being elected again, the grand strategy of the US will move towards balancing China, which is about the only foreign policy issue that has some level of consensus”, he told UnHerd. “Americans are unsentimental and old school that way, regarding great power politics.”

TikTok has been very resistant to the measure, which it has described as a violation of users’ free speech. The app urged users via push notification to contact their members of Congress and express their concerns about a ban on Thursday.

House offices were quickly flooded with calls of this nature. Many teenagers and elderly callers stressed that they spend all day on the app, while one staffer reported fielding numerous calls from teenagers asking what a Congressman is. Callers phoned in death and suicide threats, with one promising a January 6-style riot were the app banned. The deluge appears to have strengthened some members’ resolve to pass the bill.

“We might see a major push where TikTok weaponises the teen content creators,” Maitra told UnHerd. TikTok proved its ability to mobilise its massive user base Thursday. There’s likely more to come in terms of swaying voters and pressuring members of congress to act in TikTok’s best interests, whether through the soft influence of popular content creators or explicit calls to action through app notifications.

The White House has expressed support for the legislation, though Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said it “still needs some work” before President Joe Biden can commit to signing it.

While, under the House proposal, TikTok could remain in operation in the US by cutting ties with ByteDance, this scenario is unlikely. The company has described the measure publicly as a “total ban” on TikTok. Given their reluctance to take on American ownership, a total ban may very well be coming down the pike.

is UnHerd’s US correspondent.