A bill that could ban TikTok advances to the Senate. What’s next?

TikTok is preparing to remove a key executive responsible for convincing the US government that the company was doing enough to stave off national security concerns about its connections to China, according to people familiar with the matter.

Erich Andersen, the US-based general counsel for TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance Ltd., has led years-long talks with the American government meant to show that the app was doing enough to prevent China from accessing US users’ data or influencing what they see on their feeds.

Those efforts failed to win over an interagency government panel conducting a security review of the app and lawmakers in Washington weighing legislation that would force its divestiture. On Saturday, the US House approved a bill requiring TikTok to be sold by its Chinese parent or face a ban in the US.

The company is planning for Andersen to exit his current role, according to the people, who discussed the move on condition of anonymity. Andersen remains with the company for now, according to one of the people.

Andersen referred questions to the company’s communications team.

“That is 100% false,” said TikTok spokesperson Alex Haurek, when asked for comment on whether the company is set to remove Andersen from his role.

That divest-or-ban legislation is now accelerating toward becoming law, with the Senate prepared to pass the measure next week. President Joe Biden has already said he would sign the legislation, mandating the sale of TikTok within a year.

Andersen joined the social media company in 2020 from Microsoft Corp., where he was most recently corporate vice president and chief IP counsel.

 The U.S. government moved closer to banning the video social media app TikTok after the House of Representatives attached the measure to an emergency spending bill on Apr. 17, 2024. The House voted on each of the four components of the bill, and the one affecting TikTok passed 360-58 on Apr. 20, 2024. The packaging is likely to improve the bill’s chances in the Senate, and President Joe Biden has indicated that he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

The bill would force ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, to either sell its American holdings to a U.S. company or face a ban in the country. The company has said it will fight any effort to force a sale.

The proposed legislation was motivated by a set of national security concerns. For one, ByteDance can be required to assist the Chinese Communist Party in gathering intelligence, according to the Chinese National Intelligence Law. In other words, the data TikTok collects can, in theory, be used by the Chinese government.

Furthermore, TikTok’s popularity in the United States, and the fact that many young people get their news from the platform – one-third of Americans under the age of 30 – turns it into a potent instrument for Chinese political influence.

Indeed, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently claimed that TikTok accounts run by a Chinese propaganda arm of the government targeted candidates from both political parties during the U.S. midterm election cycle in 2022, and the Chinese Communist Party might attempt to influence the U.S. elections in 2024 to sideline critics of China and magnify U.S. social divisions.

To these worries, proponents of the legislation have appended two more arguments: It’s only right to curtail TikTok because China bans most U.S.-based social media networks from operating there, and there would be nothing new in such a ban since the U.S. already restricts the foreign ownership of important media networks.

Some of these arguments are stronger than others.

China doesn’t need TikTok to collect data about Americans. The Chinese government can buy all the data it wants from data brokers because the U.S. has no federal data privacy laws to speak of. The fact that China, a country that Americans criticize for its authoritarian practices, bans social media platforms is hardly a reason for the U.S. to do the same.

The debate about banning TikTok tends to miss the larger picture of social media literacy.

I believe the cumulative force of these claims is substantial and the legislation, on balance, is plausible. But banning the app is also a red herring.

In the past few years, my colleagues and I at UMass Boston’s Applied Ethics Center have been studying the impact of AI systems on how people understand themselves. Here’s why I think the recent move against TikTok misses the larger point: Americans’ sources of information have declined in quality and the problem goes beyond any one social media platform.

The deeper problem

Perhaps the most compelling argument for banning TikTok is that the app’s ubiquity and the fact that so many young Americans get their news from it turns it into an effective tool for political influence. But the proposed solution of switching to American ownership of the app ignores an even more fundamental threat.

The deeper problem is not that the Chinese government can easily manipulate content on the app. It is, rather, that people think it is OK to get their news from social media in the first place. In other words, the real national security vulnerability is that people have acquiesced to informing themselves through social media.

Social media is not made to inform people. It is designed to capture consumer attention for the sake of advertisers. With slight variations, that’s the business model of all platforms. That’s why a lot of the content people encounter on social media is violent, divisive and disturbing. Controversial posts that generate strong feelings literally capture users’ notice, hold their gaze for longer, and provide advertisers with improved opportunities to monetize engagement.

There’s an important difference between actively consuming serious, well-vetted information and being manipulated to spend as much time as possible on a platform. The former is the lifeblood of democratic citizenship because being a citizen who participates in political decision-making requires having reliable information on the issues of the day. The latter amounts to letting your attention get hijacked for someone else’s financial gain.

If TikTok is banned, many of its users are likely to migrate to Instagram and YouTube. This would benefit Meta and Google, their parent companies, but it wouldn’t benefit national security. People would still be exposed to as much junk news as before, and experience shows that these social media platforms could be vulnerable to manipulation as well. After all, the Russians primarily used Facebook and Twitter to meddle in the 2016 election.

Media literacy is especially critical in the age of social media.

Media and technology literacy

That Americans have settled on getting their information from outlets that are uninterested in informing them undermines the very requirement of serious political participation, namely educated decision-making. This problem is not going to be solved by restricting access to foreign apps.

Research suggests that it will only be alleviated by inculcating media and technology literacy habits from an early age. This involves teaching young people how social media companies make money, how algorithms shape what they see on their phones, and how different types of content affect them psychologically.

My colleagues and I have just launched a pilot program to boost digital media literacy with the Boston Mayor’s Youth Council. We are talking to Boston’s youth leaders about how the technologies they use undermine their privacy, about the role of algorithms in shaping everything from their taste in music to their political sympathies, and about how generative AI is going to influence their ability to think and write clearly and even who they count as friends.

We are planning to present them with evidence about the adverse effects of excessive social media use on their mental health. We are going to talk to them about taking time away from their phones and developing a healthy skepticism towards what they see on social media.

Protecting people’s capacity for critical thinking is a challenge that calls for bipartisan attention. Some of these measures to boost media and technology literacy might not be popular among tech users and tech companies. But I believe they are necessary for raising thoughtful citizens rather than passive social media consumers who have surrendered their attention to commercial and political actors who do not have their interests at heart.

The House has approved legislation that would ban TikTok if its Beijing-based parent company doesn’t divest from the popular social media platform, escalating the fight over the hot-button issue.

The TikTok legislation, which was included in a package of bills that would send aid to Ukraine and Israel, could become law as soon as next week if the Senate moves quickly.

Here’s what you need to know:

What’s in the House bill?

In March, the House passed legislation that would require ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, to sell the platform within six months, or face a ban in the United States.

But some senators, including the Democratic Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, had expressed concerns that the six-month deadline would be too short to carry out a complex deal that could be worth tens of billions of dollars. Following negotiations with the Senate on the issue, the House included a modified version of the legislation in the foreign aid package.

The revised legislation would give ByteDance nine months to sell TikTok, and a possible three-month extension if a sale was in progress. The bill would also bar the company from controlling TikTok’s secret sauce: the algorithm that feeds users videos based on their interests.

Cantwell, who has powers over the TikTok bill in the Senate, had previously expressed concerns that it could stand to legal scrutiny. However, she said in a statement Wednesday evening that she supports the updated legislation.

Why are lawmakers concerned about TikTok?

Lawmakers from both parties — as well as law enforcement and intelligence officials — have long expressed concerns that Chinese authorities could force ByteDance to hand over data on the 170 million Americans who use TikTok. The worry stems from a set of Chinese national security laws that compel organizations to assist with intelligence gathering - which ByteDance would likely be subject to – and other far-reaching ways the country’s authoritarian government exercises control.

Opponents of the bill, though, counter that the Chinese government could easily get information on Americans in other ways, including through commercial data brokers that sell or rent personal information.

Lawmakers and some administration officials have also expressed concerns that China could - potentially – direct or influence ByteDance to suppress or boost TikTok content that is favorable to its interests. TikTok, for its part, has denied assertions that it could be used as a tool of the Chinese government. The company has also said it has never shared U.S. user data with Chinese authorities and won’t do so if it’s asked.

In early March, Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party who’s behind the TikTok bill, introduced a House resolution that lists concerns many lawmakers have expressed about the platform. But to date, the U.S. government has not provided public evidence that shows TikTok sharing U.S. user information with Chinese authorities, or Chinese officials tinkering with the company’s algorithm.

What happens next?

The package that included the updated TikTok measure has bipartisan momentum, but it’s also facing pushback from hard-right conservatives who are opposed to providing assistance to Ukraine in its war with Russia.

Attaching the TikTok bill to the aid package is expected to expedite efforts to pass the regulatory measure, which has broad bipartisan support in the Senate.

However, it has encountered opposition in that chamber from some lawmakers who say it sets a dangerous precedent. In an X post last month, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky called the House bill “a misguided overreach” and “a draconian measure that stifles free expression, tramples constitutional rights, and disrupts the economic pursuits of millions of Americans.”

President Joe Biden has said he will sign the TikTok legislation if it gets to his desk. If that does happen, it’s expected to be challenged by TikTok, which has sued to counter previous attempts to ban the platform both nationally and at the state level.

How is TikTok reacting?

Since mid-March, TikTok has spent more than $5 million on TV ads opposing the legislation, including in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Ohio, according to AdImpact, an advertising tracking firm.

The company is also attempting to counter the bill by emphasizing its investments in data safety, and the positive impacts it has on the lives of content creators and small businesses who rely on it for income and have fostered a community on its platform.

When asked for comment on Thursday, TikTok spokesperson Alex Haurek said: “It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the U.S. economy, annually.”

Some digital rights and free speech groups have backed TikTok. The American Civil Liberties Union reiterated its opposition to the House bill on Thursday, arguing the extension given to ByteDance under the new bill wasn’t “meaningfully different from the last one” and that the end result of the bill would be a TikTok ban.

Who would buy TikTok if ByteDance divests?

While some people have voiced an interest in buying TikTok’s U.S. business — among them “Shark Tank” star Kevin O’Leary and former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — there are several challenges to getting it done.

“Somebody would have to actually be ready to shell out the large amount of money that this product and system is worth,” said Stanford University researcher Graham Webster, who studies Chinese technology policy and U.S.-China relations.

“But even if somebody has deep enough pockets and is ready to go into negotiating to purchase, this sort of matchmaking on acquisitions is not quick.”

Big tech companies could afford it but would likely face intense scrutiny from antitrust regulators in both the U.S. and China. Some are also still bruised after the then-Trump administration’s 2020 attempt to force a sale brought several bids that never panned out.

Then again, if the revised legislation becomes law and survives potential court challenges, it could make TikTok cheaper to buy.

China, which has been clamping down on exports of recommendation algorithms by Chinese tech companies, is also likely to oppose a sale of TikTok’s algorithm that has made the platform successful. That means a potential buyer would essentially have to rebuild important components of the short-form video app.

Although Congress voted to ban TikTok in the United States on Saturday after concerns about it being run by China-based company ByteDance, don't expect the social media platform to go just yet.

The House of Representatives passed legislation by a 360-58 vote that would ban TikTok if the social media platform's owner doesn't sell its stake within a year. The modified measure now goes to the U.S. Senate.

Before the vote, lawmakers in both state and federal governments had been pushing to get rid of the social media platform due to national security reasons despite pushback from free speech advocates. ByteDance has denied links to the Chinese government, along with claims that it shares user information with its Beijing-based parent company.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has previously said he would sign the TikTok legislation if it reaches his desk.

Even if the legislation does become law, the company still would have up to a year to find a buyer. TikTok, which has 170 million U.S. users, could also challenge the law in court on First Amendment grounds. Court challenges could delay the timeline set by Congress or even block the law from going into effect.

TikTok Building

"Unfortunately, the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the U.S. economy, annually," a TikTok spokesperson told Newsweek via email Saturday afternoon.

Olivia DeRamus, the founder of Communia, a social network for women, said the U.S. government could have avoided many of the larger economic concerns related to a TikTok ban if they got ahead of its influence when it first came out.

"A lot of people's livelihoods are at stake," DeRamus previously told Newsweek. "Creators and businesses alike. If the American government had acted quickly when TikTok first came out, it wouldn't be as much of an issue. But because they waited until TikTok was so widely adopted, this could cause potential disruption to not just the creator economy but the larger economy overall."

House Republicans included TikTok as part of a larger foreign aid package after an earlier version stalled in the Senate. A standalone bill with a six-month selling deadline passed the House in March by an overwhelming bipartisan vote.

In March 2023, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss the application and concerns that it's controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

"Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country," he said during his testimony, adding that he is aware that "the fact that ByteDance has Chinese founders has prompted concerns that our platform could be used as or become a tool of China or the Chinese Communist Party."

"We do not believe that a ban that hurts American small businesses, damages the country's economy, silences the voices of over 150 million Americans, and reduces competition in an increasingly concentrated market is the solution to a solvable problem," Chew added.

The House passed legislation on Saturday that could lead to a ban on TikTok in the United States, however, some members voted against the bill.

The vote in the lower chamber comes amid concerns over the popular social media platform being run by Chinese company ByteDance. Lawmakers in both state and federal governments have been pushing to get rid of the platform due to national security reasons despite pushback by free speech advocates.

However, ByteDance has previously denied links to the Chinese government, along with claims that it shares user information with its Beijing-based parent company.

The measure approved by the House would give ByteDance nine months to provide users time to export their information from the app then the Chinese company will need to sell the app or the platform will face a nationwide ban in the U.S., cutting access to roughly 170 million TikTok users across the country.


The measure was passed by a 360-58 vote and will now go to the Senate.

Newsweek has reached out to TikTok via email for comment.

Here is the list of the 58 Representatives who voted against the legislation.

Republican Andy Biggs of Arizona

Republican Dan Bishop of North Carolina

Republican Lauren Boebert of Colorado

Democrat Jamaal Bowman of New York

Republican Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma

Democrat Cori Bush of Missouri

Democrat Greg Casar of Texas

Democrat Joaquin Castro of Texas

Republican Michael Cloud of Texas

Republican Andrew Clyde of Georgia

Republican Eric Crane of Arizona

Republican Warren Davidson of Ohio

Democrat Danny Davis of Illinois

Democrat Maxwell Frost of Florida

Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida

Democrat Jesús García of Illinois

Democrat Robert Garcia of California

Republican Bob Good of Virginia

Republican Paul Gosar of Arizona

Democrat Al Green of Texas

Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia

Republican Harriet Hageman of Wyoming

Republican Andy Harris of Maryland

Democrat Val Hoyle of Oregon

Democrat Jonathan Jackson of Illinois

Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas

Democrat Sara Jacobs of California

Democrat Pramila Jayapal of Washington

Democrat Sydney Kamlager-Dove of California

Democrat Ro Khanna of California

Democrat Andy Kim of New Jersey

Democrat Rick Larsen of Washington

Democrat Barabara Lee of California

Democrat Summer Lee of Pennsylvania

Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California

Republican Nancy Mace of South Carolina

Republican Thomas Massie of Kentucky

Republican Tom McClintock of California

Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts

Republican Patrick McHenry of North Carolina

Republican Barry Moore of Alabama

Democrat Gwen Moore of Wisconsin

Republican Troy Nehls of Texas

Republican Ralph Norman of South Carolina

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York

Democrat Ilhan Omar of Minnesota

Democrat Mark Pocan of Wisconsin

Democrat Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts

Democrat Delia Ramirez of Illinois

Republican Matt Rosendale of Montana

Republican Chip Roy of Texas

Republican Keith Self of Texas

Republican William Timmons of South Carolina

Democrat Rashida Tlaib of Michigan

Democrat Juan Vargas of California

Democrat Nydia Velázquez of New York

Democrat Maxine Waters of California

Democrat Nikema Williams of Georgia

The potential ban comes as part of a $95 billion aid package that includes $60.8 billion of Ukraine aid and $26 billion in aid to Israel.

The Ukraine bill, which passed with 311 votes in favor, 112 votes against, and one present, will also head to the Senate alongside the Israel aid bill and two others including one with aid for Taiwan and the TikTok legislation.

In response to the ongoing legislation, TikTok took to X, formerly Twitter, to state, "It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the U.S. economy, annually."

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