The House Just Voted On A Potential TikTok Ban (Again). Now What?

Pictured is the office of TikTok in Culver City, California, on March 13. The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that would give TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance about six months to divest the U.S. assets of the short-video app or face a ban. (Mike Blake/Reuters via CNN Newsource)

By Brian Fung, CNN

(CNN) — House lawmakers have once again passed legislation that could lead to a nationwide TikTok ban, renewing a massive threat to the company’s US operations.

The move could fast-track a proposal TikTok has been fighting against for weeks. If the House’s gambit succeeds, TikTok could be forced to find a new owner or be banned from the United States entirely.

Here’s what we know, and how it could affect you.

Didn’t the House just vote on something like this recently?

Yes. In March, House lawmakers approved a bill that would give TikTok roughly six months to sell. Failure to do so would lead to significant consequences: The app would be prohibited from US app stores and from “internet hosting services” that support it.

What makes this bill different?

A few things. For starters, there are some substantive changes. Instead of a six-month deadline, TikTok would have roughly nine months. And that deadline could be extended by the White House — for a period of 90 days — if President Joe Biden determines there’s been progress toward a sale.

Giving TikTok as long as a year to wrap up a forced sale appears to have changed the political calculus on Capitol Hill. Some key lawmakers who’ve previously expressed skepticism now say they support the bill. One of those lawmakers is Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, who chairs the powerful Senate Commerce Committee.

Another factor that’s shaking things up is how House Republicans inserted the TikTok bill into a much larger foreign aid package. Rather than asking the Senate to vote on the TikTok bill in isolation, bundling the bill with foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel makes it much harder for lawmakers to oppose the TikTok measure.

Could the Senate vote on the foreign aid without the TikTok language?

Senators could try to strip out the TikTok legislation, but policy analysts view it as unlikely. Quickly approving the foreign aid is a top congressional priority, and if the Senate were to pass the package without the TikTok bill, those changes would have to be approved by the House, further delaying matters.

It seems more likely for the Senate to consider the entire package in a single, up-or-down vote — which is precisely what House Republicans appear to have wanted. The odds of Senate passage are as high as 80%, according to Paul Gallant, a policy analyst at the market research firm Cowen, Inc.

The Senate could vote in as little as one to two weeks, Gallant added, though Senate leadership has expressed a desire to move even faster.

What does this mean for my use of the app?

If the Senate votes to approve the TikTok legislation, it heads to President Joe Biden’s desk. Biden endorsed the prior version of the TikTok bill, which suggests he may quickly sign any foreign aid package that includes similar language targeting TikTok.

In theory, that would start the 270-day clock for TikTok to find a buyer. If it can’t separate from its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, then users could be cut off. But that is still a big “if.” So for now, TikTok fans can continue using the app as before, though they might begin to see more creators — or the company itself — speaking out in the app to oppose the legislation.

What are TikTok’s options?

In addition to complying with the legislation, TikTok could challenge it in court and has made no secret that it might do so. Its CEO, Shou Chew, vowed in March to continue fighting, “including (by) exercising our legal rights.”

TikTok and a slew of civil society groups have blasted the House legislation as unconstitutional, arguing that it violates TikTok users’ First Amendment rights to access lawful information.

First Amendment experts say a bill that has the ultimate effect of censoring TikTok users could be shot down by the courts. It’s unclear whether the recent updates to the bill may help it survive constitutional scrutiny.

“Longstanding Supreme Court precedent protects Americans’ First Amendment right to access information, ideas, and media from abroad,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, policy director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “By banning TikTok, the bill would infringe on this right, and with no real pay-off. China and other foreign adversaries could still purchase Americans’ sensitive data from data brokers on the open market.”

A court challenge could lead to the measure being temporarily blocked while the litigation plays out, likely over multiple years.

But if a court declines to grant a temporary injunction, TikTok could have to scramble to comply with the law.

So what if TikTok gets sold to someone else?

The trouble is that TikTok’s parent is subject to Chinese law, and the Chinese government is on record opposing a sale.

In recent years, China has implemented export controls governing algorithms, a policy that would seem to cover the incredibly successful algorithm that powers TikTok’s recommendation engine.

If the Chinese government doesn’t want to let ByteDance relinquish TikTok’s algorithm, the thinking goes, it could block the sale outright. Alternatively, it may allow TikTok to be sold but without the lucrative algorithm that forms the basis for its popularity.

Can TikTok still succeed without its algorithm? That would be the difficult question facing the company in the event of a forced sale. Without the secret sauce that has propelled the app to 170 million US users, the app could be as good as dead.

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