Growing opposition to TikTok ban emerges among Democratic lawmakers
FILE – Jamaal Bowman speaks to attendees during his primary-night party on June 23, 2020, in New York. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP
Growing opposition to TikTok ban emerges among Democratic lawmakers
Cami Mondeaux March 23, 04:30 AMMarch 23, 04:30 AM Video Embed
A small coalition of Democratic lawmakers is banding together to fight a proposed ban on TikTok, arguing the social media platform is critical to court young voters ahead of a crucial election cycle.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) is leading the charge to fight a possible ban as he appeared alongside content creators on Wednesday to defend the app and argue for its protection. The New York Democrat denounced efforts to ban the social media platform, rejecting arguments that the app poses national security risks as “fearmongering.”
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“Why the hysteria and panic and the targeting of TikTok? As we know, Republicans in particular have been sounding the alarm, creating a Red Scare around China,” Bowman said during a press conference on Wednesday surrounded by dozens of content creators. “It poses about the same threat that companies like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube and Twitter. So let’s not marginalize and target TikTok.”
Bowman has become one of the first lawmakers to come out in support of the Chinese-owned app, which has prompted concerns among lawmakers on Capitol Hill about possible spying and data collection. Bowman opposed those accusations, arguing there isn’t enough evidence to suggest China is using the platform for espionage.
Instead, Bowman warned the conversation around TikTok was motivated in part by racial bias — noting domestic social media companies have similar data collection policies.
“Let’s have a comprehensive conversation about legislation … to make sure people who use social media platforms are safe and your information is secure,” he said. “So let’s not have a dishonest conversation. Let’s not be racist towards China and express our xenophobia when it comes to TikTok because American companies have done tremendous harm to American people.”
Instead, a ban on TikTok would not only harm teenagers who enjoy the app but also local businesses and educators, Bowman said.
Furthermore, Bowman warned earlier this week that a TikTok ban could endanger lawmakers politically, pointing to the app’s popularity among young voters — a crucial voting bloc for the Democratic Party. A handful of lawmakers, including Bowman himself, have a large following on the social media platform, with many using the short videos to connect with voters during the midterm elections.
Bowman was joined by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Robert Garcia (D-CA), forming a trio of lawmakers who have publicly come out in support of defending TikTok access in the United States. It’s possible that sentiment expands beyond those three, but others appear unwilling to come out against a ban without more information on the app’s policies and practices.
“At the end of the day, we do have a job, and that is to protect different types of data,” Pocan said, adding that a ban on TikTok fails to address “the actual problem.”
Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) is among those who have a large following on TikTok, boasting more than 104,700 followers and 625,600 likes on her profile. Porter, who is running for a Senate seat in 2024, has used her account to post endorsements from other lawmakers and explain her campaign policies in 60 seconds or less.
There are several other notable lawmakers who have big followings on the app, including Reps. Jeff Jackson (D-NC), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Some Republicans also benefit from using the app to reach supporters, including Rep. Tony Cardenas (R-TX), who regularly posts videos from inside his House office and along the campaign trail.
The growing opposition to a TikTok ban comes one day before CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to testify before Congress on Thursday in an effort to highlight the app’s popularity in the U.S. More than 150 million people in the U.S. are registered on the app, up from the 100 million users reported in 2020, according to Axios.
Chew has actively sought to protect the app’s presence in the U.S., warning users in a video on Tuesday that “politicians have started to talk about banning TikTok,” which could “take TikTok away from all 150 million of you.”
TikTok has gradually expanded its lobbying campaign efforts in recent years, making it the fourth-highest federal lobbying expense of any internet company, according to OpenSecrets.
The public appears split on whether they think the government should ban TikTok in the U.S., with a recent survey finding those sentiments largely split along party lines. Nearly half the nation (49%) says they want a ban, with 64% of Republicans expressing support, compared to just 51% of Democrats, according to a poll from Quinnipiac University.
Republican lawmakers who support a ban say it’s crucial for national security, pointing to Chinese laws that require companies to share user data with the country’s government.
“TikTok poses a national security threat,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) told Nexstar earlier this week. “It’s a backdoor into your phone — I would say it’s a spy balloon into your phone — where they can capture data keystrokes, passwords, they can actually do algorithms to message in certain ways to use it as a propaganda tool.”
Those concerns are not confined to GOP lawmakers, as several Democrats have also come out in support of a ban.
“TikTok, under its current ownership and control structure, is an unmitigable threat to our national security and needs to be dealt with as such,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) in a statement. “We urge the [Biden administration] to act accordingly, and for Congress to codify this decision in legislation, for not just TikTok, but all the TikToks to come.”
House and Senate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have proposed several measures seeking to restrict TikTok in the U.S., including a bill from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) aiming to ban the app outright. Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) has introduced legislation to grant extra powers to the Commerce Department to analyze and determine whether foreign business deals should be considered security risks.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Wednesday acknowledged “serious security risks” with TikTok, noting he has been in talks with Warner about his legislation.
“I think that we’re going to have to look at this very, very carefully,” Schumer said.
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The Biden administration has threatened action against the popular app, demanding its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to divest or have the platform banned. President Joe Biden already signed a bipartisan bill late last year banning the app from government-owned devices, and he has expressed support for legislation to further regulate or ban foreign platforms.
However, Biden himself has been in several of the app’s short videos, even as recent as St. Patrick’s Day when he appeared alongside singer Niall Horan. When asked about the post on Wednesday, National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said the White House stands by its national security concerns.
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