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Bill to ban TikTok in US clears Congress

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Senate on Tuesday approved legislation requiring the wildly popular social media app TikTok to be divested from its Chinese parent company ByteDance or be shut out of the American market.

The measure was part of a USD95 billion foreign aid package, including military assistance to Ukraine, which has now cleared Congress and heads to President Joe Biden’s desk.

The United States (US) and other Western officials have voiced alarm over the popularity of TikTok with young people, alleging it allows Beijing to collect data and spy on users. It has 170 million users in the US alone.

China and the company strongly deny these claims.

The bill, which could trigger the rare step of barring a company from operating in the US market, passed the Senate by a 79-18 vote three days after it cleared the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support. Biden has stated he will sign the legislation.

He reiterated his concerns about TikTok in a rare telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping early this month.

TikTok complained after Saturday’s House vote, saying it was “unfortunate” that lawmakers sought to “jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans, devastate seven million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes USD24 billion to the US economy, annually.”

Under the bill, ByteDance would have to sell the app within a year or be excluded from Apple and Google’s app stores in the US.

Steven Mnuchin, who served as US treasury secretary under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, has said he is interested in acquiring TikTok and has assembled a group of investors.

Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of X, formerly Twitter, came out last Friday against banning TikTok, saying “doing so would be contrary to freedom of speech and expression”.

TikTok company offices in California, United States. PHOTO: AFP
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