May 6, 2024 - News

Sen. Romney links TikTok ban to pro-Palestinian content

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is seen in the U.S. Capitol before the Senate passed procedural votes on the House passed foreign aid package on Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, before voting in favor of a TikTok ban on April 23. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney said support for a nationwide ban on TikTok is connected to the "overwhelming" volume of "mentions of Palestinians" on the popular platform.

Why it matters: By suggesting Congress is motivated by the pro-Palestinian viewpoint of content, Romney triggered backlash from free-speech advocates, who say the proposed ban would violate the First Amendment.

  • Supporters of the pending ban have tried to promote it as a national security measure to prevent misinformation and data collection by the Chinese-owned platform. It passed with wide majorities in the House and Senate before President Biden signed it last month.

Driving the news: In a forum Friday at the McCain Institute in Sedona, Arizona Romney asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken why Israel and the U.S. have "been so ineffective at communicating" justifications for the war in Gaza, adding, "Typically the Israelis are good at PR."

  • "You have a social media ecosystem environment in which context, history, facts get lost, and the emotion — the impact of images — dominates," Blinken said.
  • Romney replied, "Some wonder why there was such overwhelming support for us to shut down potentially TikTok or other entities of that nature. If you look at the postings on TikTok and the number of mentions of Palestinians, relative to other social media sites — it's overwhelmingly so among TikTok broadcasts."

What they're saying: "I wonder if Romney realizes that his admission here is going to be used in legal filings to argue that the TikTok ban is a clear 1st Amendment violation and the 'national security' justification was a pretext," Nathan Robinson, former Guardian columnist and editor of the left-leaning magazine Current Affairs, posted on X.

What's next: TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, has up to a year to find an approved buyer under the law.

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