Divest-or-Ban: TikTok Legal Battle Looms


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On April 24, 2024 President Joe Biden signed a piece of legislation into law that has been dubbed “The TikTok Ban” by critics and advocates alike. But what does it mean? How did we get here, and what lies ahead for millions of content creators panicked about the future of the popular social media platform? Let’s break it down and take a closer look at what’s really happening with the TikTok bill.

On Wednesday, a monumental bill made its way to the president’s desk. For the first time in months, U.S. lawmakers have agreed on a bipartisan bill. It was a $95 billion foreign aid package providing military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and other parts of Asia-Pacific. It was preceded by months of delays, arguments on the House and Senate floor, and clouded with political propaganda in the midst of a presidential election campaign. Despite the rocky path and tense negotiations, the bill made its way through and is now signed into law. However, it also included another bill that’s been getting more attention online: The Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act.

The Low-Down

Essentially here’s what’s going on. TikTok is owned by ByteDance. ByteDance is TikTok’s China-based parent company. As far as the U.S. is concerned, the Chinese government pretty much does whatever it wants when it comes to user surveillance, data privacy, and freedom of speech. Although TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is from Singapore, his parent company is not, and the cozy relationship between ByteDance and Chinese Officials has U.S. lawmakers fretful regarding national security risks. Now TikTok is backed into a corner with an ultimatum and a new deadline with a tiking clock (see what we did there?): 270 days to “divest-or-ban.” The nine-month deadline can be extended by an additional 90 days if necessary for TikTok to complete the sale.

However, TikTok has no plans to sell. Chew responded on the platform by saying he plans to sue the United States government and fight it out in federal courts, claiming the law is unconstitutional and is a clear violation of the First Amendment rights afforded to every other platform. The legal challenge has yet to be filed. Meanwhile, Erich Andersen, who has served as general counsel for TikTok’s Chinese owner for four years, has stepped down, although some speculate that he may have been fired. TikTok denies such allegations. The federal legislation passed with a vote of 79-18 in the Senate and 360-58 in the House of Representatives before making its way to Biden. Ironically, Biden himself has a TikTok account, and some are shouting hypocrisy. However, since the TikTok legislation was tied to the foreign aid package, the Biden administration had little choice but to move forward and get this thing signed into law before.

@tiktokResponse to TikTok Ban Bill♬ original sound – TikTok

Next Moves

So what happens if TikTok’s lawsuit fails and the deadline to divest sticks? The bill mandates a nationwide ban within all US app stores and ISPs located in the United States. This means if ownership of TikTok isn’t transferred to a US entity, the company is going bye-bye. The timing of the ban is curious as it comes less than a week after Chinese authorities banned WhatsApp and Threads from its Chinese App Store. The forced sale of TikTok is viewed by some as a tit-for-tat between Beijing and Washington, with the argument that protecting vulnerable Americans is just a retaliation against the Chinese national security law.

The new law also prohibits applications and websites operating from North Korea, Iran, China, and Russia to be installed, accessed, or updated in the US. The government mandate doesn’t mean government enforcement of the national ban. The onus for that will fall on app stores and ISPs to make sure such services are blocked and not available for download, installation, or updates. If they fail to do so, there will be fines of $5,000 for every infraction on the user level. In addition to this, TikTok will be required to provide US users with complete transparency of information in their terms of service. Information regarding user accounts must be available upon request. Violations will result in $500 penalty fees for each user account. One more thing is tacked on to this. Data brokers cannot make any personally identifiable information available to foreign adversaries. This includes things like phone numbers, health information, user location, social security numbers, passport information, financial data, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

U.S. Reactions

The threat of a ban has split reactions among the American people. According to a CNBC economic survey, nearly half of the country is in favor of the ban, with increased popularity among Republicans vs. Democrats or Independents. Age seems to make a difference here, not surprisingly. 48% of 18-to-34 year old’s oppose a ban, while that number drops to only 11% of those over 65 years of age. There is already a growing backlash on the platform, with hashtags #KeepTikTok and #SaveTikTok trending among users over the possibility of a ban

We’re Not Alone

The United States wouldn’t be the first country to block, or restrict access to TikTok. According to the Associated Press, TikTok is already banned in the following countries, including China itself:


So What’s Next?

For the next nine months, TikTok creators don’t have much to worry about. They can continue to post themselves twerking, lip-syncing, pranking each other, applying makeup, and lifting weights. Unfortunately, dogs and cats don’t have much of a say in this matter and will continue to be exploited for likes and views. If the court challenges fail, ByteDance says they’d rather shut down the platform altogether instead of divesting, which has many worried about the future of the app. They claim TikTok’s algorithm is proprietary to ByteDance and makes a sale impossible without exposing the company’s secret sauce.



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