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Front Page Talking Points

FOR THE WEEK OF MAR. 11, 2024

Congress moves toward TikTok forced sale or ban for national security reasons

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Representatives in Washington, D.C., are discussing TikTok again – and not because of any viral dance, food, travel or fashion videos. A House committee voted 50-0 for a bill that could ban TikTok from all U.S. phones and tablets. That extreme possibility stems from national security concerns linked to the popular app used by roughly 170 million Americans. The goal is to force its China-linked parent company, ByteDance, to sell the U.S. app division to an American owner within five and a half months. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, testifying to Congress last year, denied that the China controls the app and pushed back against suggestions that his government sees U.S. user data.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce members from both parties last Thursday backed the first significant step against TikTok by this country. "This is about protecting Americans," says Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chair of the 52-seat committee. President Joe Biden supports the legislation because it addresses "the threat posed by certain technology services operating in the United States," his press secretary says. In 2022, Biden signed a bill banning the app on government phones. (Ironically, Biden's re-election campaign joined TikTok last month.) TikTok responded swiftly after last week's vote, sending a pop-up message urging users to call their representatives and tell them to vote against the bill.

If the full House and then the Senate go along, it would become illegal to distribute TikTok through an app store or web hosting platform in the U.S unless ByteDance transfers ownership in less than half a year. "It puts the choice squarely in the hands of TikTok to sever their relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. As long as ByteDance no longer owns the company, TikTok can continue to survive," says Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., a bill co-sponsor.

Lawmakers and intelligence officials fear China's government could use TikTok to access personal data and show users videos aimed at influencing their political views, including for this fall's presidential election. Biden's predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, tried to ban TikTok in 2020 but was blocked by U.S. courts after the company sued. More recently, a federal judge in late November blocked Montana's first-of-its kind state ban on TikTok, saying it violated users' free speech rights. The new congressional effort, described by Rep. McMorris Rodgers as "a very narrow, targeted bill," also would bring another legal challenge if enacted into law. The full House could vote this week.

ByteDance says: "The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators." – Company statement after March 7 vote

White House says: "This bill is important, we welcome this step. This is about our national security." – Karine Jean-Pierre, presidential press secretary

Bill critic says: "We're deeply disappointed that our leaders are once again attempting to trade our First Amendment rights for cheap political points during an election year." -- Jenna Leventoff, senior attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2024

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.

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