Updated Mar 13, 2024 - Technology

TikTok ban timeline: Congress' yearslong case against ByteDance

Illustration of a gavel hovering over a phone with an image on the screen of a gavel hovering over a phone, in a recursive pattern.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A years-long battle over TikTok's fate in the U.S. is escalating this week, as the popular video-sharing platform campaigns against the threat of a ban.

State of play: Following threats from the Trump and Biden administrations, Congress is advancing federal legislation to force China's ByteDance to sell its stake in the U.S. version of TikTok or ban the platform from U.S. app stores. Here's a timeline of how we got here.

The big picture: FBI's yearslong warning

The FBI has for years said that TikTok could pose national security risks, warning that the Chinese government, through its alleged relationship with ByteDance, may be able "to control" software on millions of devices in the U.S. or could conduct influence operations through the app.

  • The concern stems from the Chinese Communist Party's massive sway over private corporations in China, where executives and companies have in the past been punished for not conforming to party lines.
  • The Chinese government has said it will oppose any attempt to force ByteDance to sell its stake in the U.S. version of the app, and TikTok has denied accusations that the CCP controls it.

2020: Trump attempts to force sale

Then-president Trump spearheaded the initial effort to ban TikTok with an executive order in 2020, citing national security concerns.

  • He pushed for an acquisition by Microsoft, which fell through. Software giant Oracle then made its own bid to become TikTok's "trusted technology partner" in the U.S.
  • After much pressure, TikTok agreed to protect U.S. data through an alliance with Oracle.

2022: Project Texas

  • In June 2022, after longstanding pressure from the U.S. government, TikTok began routing all its U.S. user data to Oracle's cloud infrastructure.
  • Oracle then began vetting TikTok's algorithms and content moderation models to ensure they aren't manipulated by Chinese authorities.
  • The move was part of Project Texas, a $1.5 billion plan aimed at ensuring Americans that TikTok is safe, their data is secure and "the platform is free from outside influence." The project name refers to Oracle's headquarters in Texas.
  • TikTok had been preparing Project Texas for over a year by separating its U.S. operations' backend functions and code.

February 2023: Biden administration action

The Biden administration sought to regulate TikTok and banned the app from federal devices in February 2023.

Yes, but: The Biden campaign joined TikTok last month to court young voters.

March 2023: Congressional testimony

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew defended the company in a hearing before lawmakers, who fiercely advocated for banning the app.

  • Chew at the time repeatedly downplayed the app's connections to China and referenced TikTok's "unprecedented" data security practices compared to unnamed social media competitors.
  • Still, members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce came out in support of a full ban of the app in the U.S.

May 2023: State Tiktok ban

  • Montana became the first U.S. state to sign legislation banning TikTok.
  • It came as several other Republican-led states banned TikTok on government-issued devices, but Montana was the first state to impose a total ban on the app.
  • However, a federal judge in November blocked the ban before it took effect.

2024: Congress moves forward with TikTok bill

Where it stands: A House committee voted unanimously last week to advance bipartisan legislation that would force ByteDance to divest its TikTok app ownership within 165 days, Axios' Jacob Knutson reports.

  • The House on Wednesday passed the bill in a 352-65-1 vote.
  • President Biden has promised to sign it if it passes the Senate.
  • Some lawmakers indicated over the weekend that they were undecided on the legislation after being inundated with calls from constituents angry about a possible ban.

Go deeper: Shotgun divorce: How ByteDance could save TikTok from a U.S. ban

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include details of the House passing legislation on TikTok.

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