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Looming TikTok ban now law unless China-based parent company sells. What it means for California

TikTok (Dreamstime/TNS)

President Joe Biden signed into law a potential ban on TikTok as part of a long-awaited foreign aid package on Wednesday.

California influencers and users might have less than a year left to promote businesses, seek advice and spread awareness of key topics on the popular social media app used by millions of Americans. About 890,000 businesses and 16 million Californians actively use TikTok, according to data from the platform.

The measure, which the Senate passed as part of a $95 billion foreign assistance legislation on Tuesday night, could block TikTok nationwide if its China-based parent company ByteDance doesn’t sell its U.S. operations in nine months.

The president can extend the timeframe for ByteDance to divest from nine months to a year if he determines a deal is in the works, making 2025 the earliest a ban could come into effect.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have said TikTok, under the control of its China-based parent company, poses a risk to national security. Many legislators have expressed concern that Chinese officials could ask the app for data on the 170 million Americans who use it as well as push disinformation to them.

Many senators had been skeptical of the TikTok crackdown — but not enough to vote against the aid bill for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that the House of Representatives had held up for months. The sweeping package passed the Senate 79 to 18 Tuesday night. California’s senators, Democrats Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler, voted for the measure.

The House lumping the TikTok measure into the foreign military and humanitarian aid bill before sending it to the Senate upped the potential ban’s chances of getting to the president’s desk fast, worrying California influencers and legislators alike.

“It concerns me deeply,” Butler told The Bee on Tuesday of passing the measure without further debate. “I think that there are a number of things that maybe haven’t been fully considered and I wished we had taken the time to really talk through and understand — having a public conversation about some of those things.”

What have state lawmakers said about the TikTok sale?

Butler said before the vote Tuesday she had wanted more public conversations on national security concerns and the impact an eventual ban could have on U.S. workers at TikTok, which has a global headquarters in Los Angeles, and people who use it for work. She also wanted to consider accountability on other social media companies.

“Where I would have liked to see more of the legislative direction go is that all of these companies have all of this information about hundreds of millions of the American people,” Butler said. “What is the total framework and accountability that we are placing across the companies?”

Congressional lawmakers have received classified intelligence briefings on TikTok and issues of national security and data privacy.

“Senator Padilla believes we can support speech and creativity while also protecting data privacy and security,” the California Democrat’s office said in a statement on Tuesday before the vote.

“TikTok’s relationship to the Chinese Communist Party poses significant data privacy concerns,” the statement read. “He will continue working with the Biden-Harris administration and his colleagues in Congress to safeguard Americans’ data privacy and foster continued innovation.”

Biden had signaled support of a TikTok divestment measure in March. That week, the House passed a bill with bipartisan support giving ByteDance a six-month deadline to sell, but the Senate stalled bringing up the measure. Increasing the period to up to a year made it more palatable for some lawmakers who were previously skeptical of forcing the app’s sale.

The TikTok crackdown will almost certainly face immediate legal challenges, as did previous attempts to force a sale or prohibit the social media app by the Trump administration and Montana. A federal judge blocked Montana’s attempted TikTok ban last fall.

TikTok and ByteDance spent over $7 million this year to try to urge federal lawmakers against passing legislation that could lead to a nationwide ban, according to a CNBC review of lobbying disclosures and advertising data.

TikTok ban is a ‘tragedy,’ CA TikToker says

Dan Salinger, a Sacramento retired lawyer who shares the challenges of caring for his father who has dementia with his 2 million TikTok followers, voiced frustration with the congressional vote in an interview with The Bee Tuesday ahead of the vote.

He said it took him “thousands and thousands and thousands of hours” to accumulate that many followers, investing time and energy in his “quasi-retirement.”

But others will have it even worse than him, he said.

“The tragedy is there are millions, literally millions of Americans … they’re running businesses off TikTok,” Salinger said.

Salinger said that TikTok brings 170 million Americans together as a community.

“There are so many Americans that rely on TikTok just to get through the day,” he said.

Salinger said that the ban — “It is a ban, straight up. They can call it whatever they want.” — was an egregious assault on free speech, and all due to “smoke and mirrors” security concerns.

“I am appalled at the way our government is playing slipshod with our rights,” he said.

Salinger said it didn’t surprise him to see Republicans and Democrats alike wanting to ban TikTok — he says both parties fear what the app can do.

“This app is terrifying to anybody in power, because it gives the power to the average person,” he said.

Why did the House add the TikTok legislation to the foreign aid bill?

The House tacked the TikTok bill onto a long-stalled foreign aid package that passed on Saturday. The $95 billion package combines four bills — $61 billion in military aid for Ukraine; $26 billion for Israel and humanitarian aid for Gaza; $8 billion for Taiwan; and legislation on national security that includes the potential TikTok ban.

All four passed with large bipartisan support and were sent to the Senate as a combined bill.

Inserting the TikTok crackdown aimed to appease conservatives — and ensured its Senate passage. To make it to the president’s desk and be signed into law, the House and Senate must pass substantively identical measures. The Senate would have to send the bill back to the House for consideration if lawmakers wanted to remove the TikTok legislation.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have stressed the urgency of sending military and humanitarian funds overseas.

Biden, not mentioning TikTok, spoke about signing the aid bill into law on Wednesday. “We don’t really watch global events unfold, we shape them,” he said in his 11-minute remarks about sending foreign assistance. “That’s what it means to be the indispensable nation, that’s what it means to be the world’s superpower and the world’s leading democracy.”

TikTok did not release a statement after the Senate vote Tuesday night. However, after the House vote to attach the ban to the spending bill, the social media company wrote in a post on X, “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, devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the U.S. economy, annually.”

©2024 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.