TikTok urges users to call Congress to fight possible ban

TikTok urges users to call Congress to fight possible ban

Washington introduced a bill this week calling on TikTok to cut ties with its Chinese parent company or face a ban in the United States. When many users opened the popular app on Thursday, the company greeted them with a message opposing the legislation, prompting a flood of phone calls to several offices on Capitol Hill.

“Put a stop to TikTok,” the message on the app read. It included a button for people to call their representatives, saying: “Let Congress know what TikTok means to you and tell them to vote NO.” »

By midday, members of Congress’ phone lines were swamped with calls, according to messages from lawmakers’ staffers on X and two congressional aides with knowledge of the situation. Some of the callers appeared to be teenagers, while others hung up as soon as they were connected, aides said. One aide said his office had received about a hundred calls, and another aide said his office had received more than a thousand. A staffer posted a screenshot on X showing that TikTok also sent a push alert to certain users.

Some users reported on X that they couldn’t use the app before making the call. TikTok told the New York Times that users could swipe right to get rid of the message, which may have caused confusion because users typically swipe up to see the next video on the app. The company also said that the “X” to close the page was not visible to some users at first, but later fixed this issue.

Tech companies have often sought to rally users in response to legislation, but this effort is rarely so overt.

Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill 50-0 on Thursday. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana said on X that the full body would vote on the bill next week. The aim is to force TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, to sell the app. The House bill is one of several efforts over the past year aimed at curtailing TikTok over concerns that ByteDance’s relationship with Beijing poses national security risks.

Reps. Mike Gallagher, Republican of Wisconsin, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, who are co-sponsors of the bill, criticized TikTok’s post as misleading. “Here you have an example of an adversary-controlled app lying to the American people and interfering with Congress’ legislative process,” they said.

In an article on X on Thursday, the company said: “This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a complete ban on TikTok in the United States. »

TikTok declined to answer questions about the strategy and how many users it reached with its campaign. The company previously said lawmakers’ fears were unfounded, particularly because its U.S. operations and user data are shielded from the rest of the organization.

The legislation still has a long way to go to become law. Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, speaker of the House, said Thursday he supports the bill. If the full House approves the bill, it will be sent to the Senate.

Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, who introduced his own legislation targeting enforcement, said he was concerned about how the new bill directly named TikTok and ByteDance, a fact that could be cited in a legal challenge to the legislation. But he said, “I have tremendous respect for Congressman Gallagher and will take a close look at this bill.” »

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer determines which legislation will be considered by the full Senate. In a statement, he said he was discussing the legislation with other Democrats.

“I will listen to your views on the bill and determine the best path forward,” he said.

Mike Nellis, a Democratic digital strategist and former senior adviser to Kamala Harris, said TikTok’s alert to users was a “smart organizing tactic.”

But, he added, “I would be concerned that this tactic could backfire and highlight the problem at hand, which is that a foreign technology company has a lot of influence in the United States.”

Mr. Nellis, who has worked on advertising campaigns through TikTok, also said: “I can imagine that members of Congress feel more pressure to act than before, after being inundated with calls like this. »

On Thursday afternoon, the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a memo to lawmakers’ offices with advice on how to respond to the flood of calls. The memo, obtained by The New York Times, outlined the committee’s arguments in favor of the bill and “telephone scripts” to respond directly to callers.

One of the scripts suggested that staff members told callers that “TikTok lied about the bill” and that the app “worked very hard to hide” its relationship with China.

“The bill requires TikTok to sever this relationship,” the committee’s script states. He advised staffers to tell callers that when the app does this, “you can continue to use TikTok” without Chinese influence.

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David B.Otero

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