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US House passes bill that could lead to total TikTok ban

<span>Divest-or-ban bill passed with bipartisan majority.</span><span>Photograph: Antonin Utz/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Divest-or-ban bill passed with bipartisan majority.Photograph: Antonin Utz/AFP/Getty Images

The House of Representatives voted 360 to 58 on the updated divest-or-ban bill that could lead to the first time ever that the US government has passed a law to shut down an entire social media platform.

Related: US House approves $61bn in military aid for Ukraine after months of stalling

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week and Joe Biden has said he will sign the legislation.

“This bill protects Americans and especially America’s children from the malign influence of Chinese propaganda on the app TikTok. This app is a spy balloon in Americans’ phones,” said Texas Republican representative Michael McCaul, author of the bill, Bloomberg reports.

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The updated TikTok bill comes as part of House Republican speaker Mike Johnson’s foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The passage of the updated version of the bill came after Maria Cantwell, the Senate commerce committee chair, urged the House in March to revise the bill’s details, which now extends TikTok’s parent company ByteDance’s divestment period from six months to a year.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Cantwell said: “As I’ve said, extending the divestment period is necessary to ensure there is enough time for a new buyer to get a deal done. I support this updated legislation.”

Critics of the popular social media app argue that ByteDance, which is based in China, could collect user data and censor content that is critical of the Chinese government. In March, Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, warned in a House intelligence committee hearing that China could use TikTok to influence the US’s 2024 presidential elections.

Meanwhile, TikTok has repeatedly said that it has not and would not share US user data with the Chinese government. “TikTok is an independent platform, with its own leadership team, including a CEO based in Singapore, a COO based in the US and a global head of trust and safety based in Ireland,” the company said.

In response earlier this week to the House’s then upcoming vote, TikTok wrote a post on social media expressing its displeasure at the bill and the US’s ability to “shutter a platform that contributes $24bn to the US economy, annually”.

Following the bill’s passage, TikTok said: “It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is using the cover of important foreign and humanitarian assistance to once again jam through a ban bill that would trample the free speech rights of 170 million Americans,” NPR reports.

The president of Signal, an encrypted messaging service and US company, also condemned the bill’s passage, arguing that the data privacy arguments could be extended to other social media companies while pointing to the Senate’s recent passage of the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that expands warrantless surveillance powers.

In a post on X, Meredith Whittaker said: “This is fucked. Please take a moment to consider what’s happening here. Abuse of surveillance powers is about to be enshrined in US law at the same time that a bill to force TikTok to sell to US buyer or be banned is moving forward, justified in part via ‘data privacy.’”

In March, Joe Biden vowed to sign the TikTok bill, saying: “If they pass it. I’ll sign it.” That same month, Shou Zi Chew testified before Congress for more than five hours during which lawmakers grilled TikTok’s Singaporean CEO on China, drugs and teenage mental health.