Updated Mar 13, 2024 - Technology

TikTok lives for now: How the race to ban it could unfold

Animated illustration of the TikTok logo glitching and turning into a no symbol.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

U.S. lawmakers are trying to regulate TikTok over long-standing alleged national security concerns, but it's unlikely the app is going anywhere anytime soon.

The big picture: Although Washington surprised even TikTok with its accelerated recent attempt to potentially ban the wildly popular video app, the efforts still face hurdles.

  • The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to force China-based ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a ban in the U.S, but there's no strong indication the Senate will advance it. Though of course, the upper chamber could act with surprise swiftness.
  • President Biden, whose campaign recently joined the app, has vowed to sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.

Zoom in: Opinions in the Senate on a ban appear to be varied, and some senators remain undecided.

  • "We need curbs on social media, but we need those curbs to apply across the board," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told Axios Pro's tech team.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he's conflicted. "I would like to protect the data, keep the website up if we could." But he added, we have to "make sure our data is not used by China and they can't influence elections."
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has not yet made clear if he would be willing to bring the bill to the floor, but said he'll discuss the legislation with relevant committee chairs to determine next steps.

The other side: TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew in a video posted online Wednesday evening called the House vote "disappointing," but thanked users for their support and said the company wouldn't stop fighting as he encouraged them to "make your voices heard."

  • He doubled down on TikTok's claims that if the bill were signed into law it would lead to the platform being prohibited in the U.S.
  • He said in his appeal to users, creators, teachers and small businesses that a ban would give "more power to a handful of other social media companies."

Between the lines: There's also political risk in banning an app beloved by young people during an election year.

  • Former President Trump, who previously supported banning the app, has softened his stance as he vies for another term.

Reality check: Even if the Senate passes the bill and Biden signs it, there will be challenges in court over the constitutionality of the law and the law itself.

  • That gives ByteDance time before they have to sell or stop operating in the U.S.

Go deeper: TikTok ban timeline: Congress' yearslong case against ByteDance

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.

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