A TikTok spokesperson, has stated that a US-wide ban of TikTok would hurt free speech in response to a bill passed by the US House of Representatives on Sunday (21 April).

The bill recommends that TikTok’s owner ByteDance sell its social media platform to avoid a nationwide ban. It has given ByteDance a year to sell its stake in TikTok. 

“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,” stated TikTok spokesperson Alex Haurek. 

Many US states, including Montana, have already banned or are considering a ban on the social media platform citing national security fears due to TikTok’s reported links to China, despite TikTok stating that it does not share user data with the Chinese government. 

Montana’s TikTok users filed a lawsuit in May 2023 alleging that the ban impeded their digital rights. 

TikTok CEO, Shou Zi Chew, testified to US senators in February 2024 that TikTok was not being used by the Chinese government to influence its Western userbase and that he personally did not have affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party. 

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Despite this, US senator Mark Warner voiced support for the bill and clarified on X that it was not an attempt to permanently ban US citizens from using TikTok. 

“Taking action on TikTok isn’t about banning it forever, it’s about divesting it from a company that is legally required to do the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party,” he wrote, adding that the bill was a necessary part of the US’ national security strategy. 

He also voiced concern about the rising number of younger users retrieving their news from the app, explaining that it could be used to push propaganda and misinformation. 

In its 2024 thematic intelligence report into misinformation, research and analysis company GlobalData wrote that regulatory action to counter online misinformation could be at danger of diminishing free speech. 

GlobalData also noted that, compared to other social media sites, TikTok had a younger user base that could be more susceptible to misinformation. 

While it has taken measures to identify and flag false information and AI generated content, its possible connection to the Chinese government will continue to be a regulatory pressure point ahead of many upcoming international elections in 2024.