TikTok fanatics: what the House vote to effectively ban could mean for you

Clare Duffy, CNN | 3/13/2024, 11:44 a.m.
If you’re a TikTok fanatic worried about how you’re going to stay connected to the world after a bill that …
The US House of Representatives voted to advance legislation that would ban TikTok unless it parts ways with its Chinese parent company, ByteDance. Mandatory Credit: Will Lanzoni/CNN via CNN Newsource

If you’re a TikTok fanatic worried about how you’re going to stay connected to the world after a bill that could ban the app passed the House of Representatives Wednesday … don’t panic just yet.

For those just catching up: US lawmakers have renewed efforts to crack down on TikTok over national security concerns related to its Chinese parent company ByteDance. The bill would prohibit TikTok from US app stores unless the social media platform is quickly spun off from ByteDance.

The bill, called the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, advanced out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week. And on Wednesday, it was passed in the House with 352 affirmative votes and just 65 representatives dissenting.

Many of the roughly 170 million Americans who use the app have raised concerns that banning TikTok could mean doing away with a platform that represents much more than a platform where young people can follow the latest updates about the Princess of Wales. It’s where they go to find connection, get entertained, seek information and earn a living. Some of those TikTokkers phoned their representatives in recent days to urge them to vote “no” on the bill, after the app alerted users to the potential ban.

There are other platforms available for TikTok users — nearly every major social media company has spent the past several years trying to mimic the app’s popular formula of snappy, shortform videos combined with a powerful recommendation algorithm that keeps users scrolling. However, shifting a loyal audience from one platform to another is easier said than done.

But TikTok will not be disappearing from Americans’ phones anytime soon.

The bill faces numerous hurdles to being signed into law and will almost certainly face legal challenges if it is. And if the bill becomes law, the question remains whether an American buyer would step in to save the day (if ByteDance is willing to divest the popular platform).

Here’s what you need to know if you’re a TikTokker worried about the ban:

How likely is the bill to become law?

Now that the bill has passed the House, it moves to the Senate, where it faces a more uncertain outcome.

One major obstacle: The bill is largely unpopular with TikTok users, many of whom also happen to be young voters who could hold major sway in the 2024 US election, which senators are keenly aware of. Some TikTok users posted videos ahead of Wednesday’s vote showing them calling their representatives and threatening to vote for alternate candidates if they voted to pass the bill.

“This process was secret and the bill was jammed through for one reason: it’s a ban,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement following the Wednesday House vote. “We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer declined on Wednesday to commit to bringing the TikTok bill to the Senate floor for a vote. “The Senate will review the legislation when it comes over from the House,” he said.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin on Tuesday said he has concerns about the bill’s constitutionality. He added that passing the bill could have political fallout — including for President Joe Biden, who has said he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk — ahead of the 2024 election.

“Cutting out a large group of young voters is not the best known strategy for reelection,” Durbin said.

That may be even more true after Biden’s likely opponent in November, former President Donald Trump, said he opposed a TikTok ban, a reversal from his stance as president.

Even if the bill did manage to pass the Senate and get signed into law, TikTok has signaled it would likely challenge the legislation in court. A similar statewide bill in Montana has been halted pending a trial after TikTok alleged it violated the first amendment.

How would the law work?

If enacted, the bill would give TikTok roughly five months to separate from ByteDance, or else app stores in the United States would be prohibited from hosting the app on their platforms.

App stores that violate the legislation could be fined based on the number of users of a banned app. The bill establishes fines of $5,000 per user of a banned app. So, in the case of TikTok, Apple and Google could potentially be on the hook for up to $850 billion in fines each.

It’s unclear if ByteDance would agree to sell or spin-off TikTok. If it did, the company could struggle to find an American buyer willing to shell out, despite the app’s popularity.

TikTok is worth an estimated $100 billion, according to Wedbush analyst Dan Ives. And many major US tech companies already face fierce regulatory scrutiny that could prevent them from making such a major acquisition.

And while the law would ban TikTok from US app stores, removing the existing app from users’ phones would represent a more difficult task in practice for lawmakers seeking to block its use in the United States. Moreover, virtual private networking (VPN) services could potentially make it possible for US users to get around a TikTok ban, by making it appear as if a US user is connected to the internet from a different country.

Where else can TikTokkers go?

There’s no shortage of alternative social media platforms where users can go to create or consume short-form videos.

YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and X have all created scrolling video features that mimic TikTok’s, although many users say those competitors haven’t nailed the recommendation algorithm that makes TikTok so alluring.

Many TikTok users also say that transitioning a large audience from TikTok to another platform is tricky. And different platforms have different monetization schemes, which could mean challenges for creators looking to rebuild businesses that relied on TikTok if they’re forced to move to another social network.

TikTok’s heavy emphasis on the For You page makes it far easier for brands to reach new audiences compared to other apps, TikTok creator and business owner Nadya Okamoto told CNN this week.

“(TikTok users are) primarily looking at content from people they don’t necessarily follow already. And so, as a business, that is a very unique thing,” she said.

Still, some TikTokkers appear to be preparing for the worst. Some users posted that they were working to follow their favorite creators on other platforms, others posted “farewell” videos in case the app gets banned.

“If you are someone who makes your money from social media, you need to now figure out a way to get your audience off of this app … What are you going to do if there was a complete and total ban of TikTok?” a creator who goes by “Business with Sab,” whose content focuses on growing an audience on TikTok, said in a video posted to the platform last week. “You do need to figure out a way to get people on your email list.”