American politicians aren't just restricting access to TikTok — they now hope to ban it outright. Members of the House and Senate have introduced matching bills that would block transactions from any social media company in or influenced by China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, North Korea or Venezuela. The ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act (Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party) is meant to shut down access to TikTok and other apps that could theoretically funnel American user data to oppressive governments, censor news or otherwise manipulate the public.
The rationale echoes what US political leaders have argued for years. While TikTok has taken efforts to distance its international operations from those in China, such as by storing US data domestically, critics have argued that parent company ByteDance is ultimately at the mercy of the Chinese government. TikTok could potentially profile government workers and otherwise surveil Americans, according to the often-repeated claims.
Republican bill co-sponsors Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mike Gallagher tried to draw links between some ByteDance leadership and the Chinese Communist Party in an opinion piece in The Washington Post this November. At the time, 23 directors had previously worked for state-backed media, and "at least" 15 employees still did. The bill is also sponsored by House Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi.
In a statement, a TikTok spokesperson said it was "troubling" that members of Congress were putting forward legislation to ban the app rather than waiting for a national security review to wind down. The bills will "do nothing to advance" national security, according to the company. The firm added that it would "continue to brief" Congress on plans developed under the watch of security officials. The social network has consistently denied plans to track American users or otherwise deliberately assist Chinese surveillance efforts in the country.
TikTok already faces some legal action. The states of Maryland and South Dakota have banned TikTok on government devices over security concerns. Indiana, meanwhile, sued TikTok for allegedly deceiving users about China's data access and child safety violations. That lawsuit would fine TikTok and demand changes to the service's info handling and marketing claims.
Whether or not the bills become legislation isn't certain. President Biden revoked former President Trump's orders to ban TikTok downloads, and instead required a fresh national security review. He's not expected to override his own order. And while the bill sponsors characterize the measure as bipartisan, it's not clear the call for a TikTok ban has enough support to clinch the necessary votes and reach Biden's desk. To some degree, the ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act is more a signal of intent than a practical attempt to block TikTok.