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TikTok Vows Legal Fight After Biden Signs Bill Paving Way for Ban

Fight Tiktok Ban cartoon
credit: HKPinoyTV Images

TikTok’s CEO defiantly vowed Wednesday to keep operating in the United States after President Joe Biden signed legislation that could ultimately ban the wildly popular video-sharing app because of national security concerns over data privacy.

Shou Zi Chew, the TikTok chief executive, said in a video message that the company will mount a legal challenge to block the recently approved restrictions, which give the White House the power to prohibit the Chinese-owned app.

“The ban on TikTok, that’s what this legislation allows, but it didn’t make it,” Chew said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re here for the long run.”

Chew’s remarks came shortly after Biden put his signature on a bipartisan bill that grants the administration robust powers to force ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, to divest from the video platform’s U.S. operations and data within 270 days. Biden could also extend that deadline by 90 days if ByteDance is making progress on a sale.

The law marks the climax of years of concerns that the hugely popular app – with an estimated 170 million American users – could be a national security threat, with U.S. officials fearing that user data could be passed on to China’s government. Those concerns prompted the U.S. armed forces last year to prohibit TikTok from being installed on military devices.

TikTok has long maintained that its U.S. user data has been stored domestically and disputed accusations that it hands over information to Beijing. The company is expected to mount a legal challenge on free speech grounds. In November, a federal judge in Montana temporarily blocked a state ban on TikTok, dealing a setback to the wave of state-level restrictions.

Some First Amendment advocates have also pushed back on the TikTok prohibition, arguing the app hasn’t been proven guilty of any nefarious actions. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he worries the restrictions could be abused by future administrations to trample on free speech rights.

But concerns over the data risks prompted bipartisan support in Congress for the restrictions, fueled in part by rising geopolitical tensions with China. The overwhelming backing for the TikTok bill reflects the changing climate on U.S.-China relations following Beijing’s failure to assist in the investigation of the origins of COVID-19 and its tacit support for Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

Trump, who tried and failed to prohibit TikTok during his final year in office, weighed in this week to claim credit for prompting the Biden administration’s actions, while warning voters about a potential TikTok ban.

If TikTok is ultimately banned, the ripple effects could be immense. It has become a cultural force, shaping speech through viral dances and memes. Scores of social media influencers have relied on TikTok to build lucrative careers. Its creative culture and uniquely catchy videos have prompted Facebook, Instagram and others to mimic some of its features.

Across the Atlantic, TikTok is already facing scrutiny. On Wednesday, it suspended a rewards feature on its lite app in Europe after the European Union launched a probe examining how it could be manipulating user behavior and promoting addiction among minors.