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Congress Must Hold Firm Against TikTok’s Legion Of Lobbyists And Cut Off Chinese Espionage

This is not about the content on the platform. Congress is simply addressing the conduct of TikTok and its Chinese overlords.


Congress is finally doing something that many Americans have been waiting for, holding TikTok accountable for their relationship to the People’s Republic of China. Legislators from both sides of the aisle are coming together to solve this unique challenge.

Last week, the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Select Committee, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and a bipartisan coalition introduced HR 7521, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, which would require ByteDance, the CCP-controlled parent company, to divest TikTok over stark revelations of how the app is used for espionage by the Chinese government.

Beyond the arduous machinations of the lawmaking process, it is clear ByteDance will not give up easily. They have accumulated a legion of high-priced lobbyists, megadonors, and D.C. insiders who will be out in force, pressuring members with every trick in the book. It was no doubt one of these lobbyists who activated TikTok’s virtual mob, and no doubt they continue to call and intimidate members of Congress.

One TikTok-stan hard at work has been Republican megadonor and ByteDance investor Jeffrey Yass, who reportedly has a $33 billion stake in the Chinese company. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, he has used his wealth and influence in Republican circles to direct politicians and conservative groups who had previously opposed the Trump administration’s successful banning of Huawei, ZTE, or China Telecom, to suddenly be pearl-clutching in defense of TikTok. In fact, the New York Post reported he was “bullying” Republican members to oppose the divestiture proposal.

It is clear TikTok’s overlords are feeling the heat, unleashing an army of users on members of Congress. The app activated depressed teenagers to endlessly call their members of Congress in defense of the app. For several hours on Thursday, there were numerous reports of these TikTok defenders making death threats and callers suggesting they would kill themselves if the app goes away. In many ways, these uninformed users proved the app is essentially a propaganda arm of the CCP.

Unlike previous efforts to rein in TikTok, this has a real chance of success. The proposal has the right balance of mitigating real harm without setting off tripwires that stalled previous attempts. Instead of banning the app, it sets a 180-day deadline for TikTok to be divested from control by the foreign adversary. If this does not happen, then American entities such as app stores and cloud services would not be able to service the Chinese-controlled platform. It’s narrowly written to address the specific concerns about TikTok and similar entities that are controlled by foreign adversaries.

Let’s be clear: This effort is about the conduct of TikTok and its Chinese overlords. This is not about the content on the platform. While I am not a fan of many of the videos or content moderation decisions made by the app, that is a separate issue.

As FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr explained in a recent X thread, “The First Amendment does not protect espionage.” Just because people use the app to express themselves does not mean the existential national security threat should be allowed to continue doing business. Even without the classified briefings Congress is privy to, we know the myriad reports that have dripped out almost weekly detailing how TikTok has lied to the American people, has been in breach of U.S. law, and is being used as a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party against free people.

On Thursday, step one in this legislative process was accomplished when the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., deftly navigated the process of marking up the legislation and received unanimous support. This was followed up by Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., making clear they would bring the bill to the House Floor as early as this week.

While these are good signs for potential success, advocates for an internet free of Chinese surveillance are in for a long journey. The legislation still has to see action in the Senate and receive a signature from the White House, which has already indicated Biden would sign the proposal.

It will be tempting for many politicians to give in to the mounting pressure and change their tune on this bill. The next few weeks will be critical for the proposal’s future. As anyone with cable news will tell you, with a 24-hour news cycle, it is very easy for politicians to do nothing or to move on to the debate.

As the lobbying game intensifies, pressure falls on members in both chambers to stay focused and move this legislation toward passage. Now is the time for Congress to stand firm against these mounting external pressures, prioritizing the security and sovereignty of Americans in the digital age.

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