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The TikTok ban chaos — explained in 60 seconds

Peter Kafka   

The TikTok ban chaos — explained in 60 seconds
  • A bill that could ban TikTok in the US is moving quickly through Congress.
  • The politics of this one are complicated; so are the practical realities.

A new bill working its way through Congress could ban TikTok in the US. Donald Trump, who used to want to ban TikTok in the US, now says he'd like it to be here. And some people who support the ban bill insist it isn't a ban bill.

Confusing, right? Let's try to clear it up as much as we can.

Why do people want to ban TikTok in the US?

That depends on who you ask, but at the very core, it's one consistent answer: TikTok is an enormously popular app and it's owned by a Chinese company. And the Chinese government exerts quite a bit of control over Chinese companies. So sometimes TikTok critics worry that the Chinese government could use TikTok to hoover up personal data from American citizens; sometimes the critique is that the Chinese government could use TikTok to influence American politics.

TikTok says the new bill would ban TikTok in the US. Is that true?

Yes and no. The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act wouldn't outright ban TikTok in the US. But it would ban it if ByteDance, its Chinese owner, refused to sell its US operations to non-Chinese owners.

How could ByteDance sell part of TikTok? Is that even possible?

Maybe. Back in 2020, when then-President Donald Trump wanted ByteDance to sell TikTok's US operations to a US buyer, ByteDance and Microsoft talked about it for a bit. And then the deal went away. This time around, it's very hard to imagine a Big Tech company buying TikTok, given the Biden administration's antitrust stance. So perhaps ByteDance could figure out a way to sell US TikTok to non-Chinese investors. But that would be very difficult and expensive if ByteDance even agreed to it.

How would a ban actually work? How do you ban an app?

The new bill wouldn't remove TikTok from people's phones. But it would prevent Apple and Google from distributing the app from their app stores, and maintaining the app via updates, which would eventually make the app unusable. The bill would also ban US websites from hosting TikTok.

What's the status of the TikTok ban bill?

It's moving pretty quickly: The bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois last week; the Republican-controlled House is expected to pass the bill this week. It would then need approval from the Senate and President Joe Biden to become a law.

What are the politics of the TikTok ban bill?

This one is hard to summarize because TikTok concerns are both bi-partisan and inconsistent.

Last year, a majority of Americans said they had national security concerns about TikTok. Those concerns differed considerably based on age and ideology, but essentially: Older, Republican-leaning Americans are more concerned about TikTok; younger, Democratic-leaning Americans are less concerned. In the Senate, where the bill would need 60 votes to pass, some Republicans, like Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, have already signaled that they may have problems with the bill.

Joe Biden is using TikTok to campaign for President. But he's also said he would pass the ban bill. Isn't that hypocritical?


Four years ago, Donald Trump said he wanted to ban TikTok. Now he says it should stay. Isn't that hypocritical?


What happens if the bill becomes law?

ByteDance would have 180 days to divest its US TikTok operations to … someone else. If that didn't happen, Apple and other Big Tech companies would have to stop working with TikTok in the US or face massive fines and other penalties.

The US elections are in 238 days. Does that mean TikTok could be banned before the US elections this fall?

Theoretically, yes. Practically? It's hard to imagine, given that ByteDance would almost certainly contest the new law in court.

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