Mar 14, 2024 - Business

Sen. Josh Hawley doesn't expect TikTok bill to pass the Senate

Photo illustration of Sen. Josh Hawley, the U.S. Capitol building and TikTok logos.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Images: TikTok, Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) was one of the first senators to applaud yesterday's House vote on a bill that requires ByteDance to divest TikTok, or else risk the app from being banned.

But he tells Axios that he doesn't have much faith that there will be a similar vote in the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is noncommittal about bringing it to the floor (despite support from President Biden).

Here are five excerpts from our interview, which took place on Wednesday afternoon:

1. Prospects in the Senate, where some have objected to the House language:

  • "I'd be fine taking [the House bill] up verbatim. But if folks want to take it up and amend it, we can. ... My observation is that people say: 'I agree with the idea in principle but have concerns.' That basically means we should never do anything. What we're likely to see happen in the Senate is people will nickel-and-dime it, a death by a thousand cuts. Nothing that Big Tech doesn't want moves across the Senate floor."

2. His security concern is data, not a propagandized algorithm:

  • "The app collects way more information than it needs to to feed its algorithm, and that information is available to the Chinese Communist Party upon request. ... I don't think we want Americans' text messages to be read, or their geolocations to be available to the CCP, so it can build a dossier on every American. ... Maybe that's to feed its own AI or for some other reason, but it is a hostile foreign government that's been behind hacks of other U.S. citizen information."
  • "It's not really what's on the platform itself ... that's a red herring."

3. Would China allow a divestiture?

  • "It's a good question. If it doesn't, that would show how important this app and its algorithm really are."

4. Would Hawley support TikTok being sold to a U.S. tech giant?

  • "I'd certainly oppose one of the monopolistic tech companies, like Meta or Google, from buying it. I think we ought to be breaking those companies up."
  • (Note: Our conversation happened before former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he's putting together an investor group to buy TikTok, apparently similar to what former Activision CEO Bobby Kotick is doing.)

5. His message to creators who make a living on TikTok.

  • "There's a reason TikTok is so popular, and it's not because it's a spy app. It's because of the design of the platform and the algorithm. Whether or not TikTok itself is purchased, many will try to compete ... and what we really should hope for is that competition, which would create increased opportunity for creators."
  • "TikTok is essentially using American creators as a shield when it's not an American company."
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