Is TikTok going to be banned in the US?

(NEXSTAR) – Lawmakers in the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday that could ban the ultra-popular social media app TikTok. The bill heads to the Senate next, and if it passes there, it’ll go to President Biden’s desk.

Biden says he’s in favor a bill that would ban TikTok. Does that mean an end to scrolling is on the horizon? It depends on whether the app can find a new owner.

TikTok is owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance. The bill, if it were to become a law, would ban TikTok in the U.S. unless there’s a “qualified divestiture.” That means American TikTok users would be able to keep using the app as long as ByteDance gives up on owning it.

Lawmakers in favor of the bill are urging ByteDance to divest by the proposed 6-month deadline so Americans can stay on the app. But it’s not going to be as simple as they are making it sound, according to experts.

First, there needs to be a buyer willing to fork over enough money to purchase TikTok. Big tech companies could afford it, but would likely face intense scrutiny from antitrust regulators in both the U.S. and China.

Mona Swain, center, and her sister, Rachel Swain, right, both of Atlanta, monitor voting at the Capitol in Washington as the House passed a bill that would lead to a nationwide ban of the popular video app if its China-based owner doesn’t sell, on March 13, 2024. Lawmakers contend the app’s owner, ByteDance, is beholden to the Chinese government, which could demand access to the data of TikTok’s consumers in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Then again, if the bill actually becomes law and survives First Amendment court challenges, it could make TikTok cheaper to buy.

“One of the main effects of the legislation would be to decrease the sale price,” said Matt Perault, director of the University of North Carolina’s Center on Technology Policy, which gets funding from TikTok and other tech companies. “As you approach that 180-day clock, the pressure on the company to sell or risk being banned entirely would be high, which would mean probably the acquirers could get it at a lower price.”

If a sale were to go through, the new U.S.-based TikTok would have to completely cut ties with ByteDance. That includes no more “cooperation with respect to the operation of a content recommendation algorithm or an agreement with respect to data sharing.”

If the president determines “through an interagency process” that TikTok is “no longer being controlled by a foreign adversary,” according to the bill’s language, then the app could stay operational in the U.S.

The move to ban a Chinese-owned TikTok reflects longstanding concerns that Chinese authorities could force ByteDance to hand over data on the 170 million Americans who use TikTok. The worry stems from a set of Chinese national security laws that compel organizations to assist with intelligence gathering.

It’s an unusual bill in the way that it targets a single company. Typically, a government group led by the Treasury secretary — called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS — will review whether such a sale would pose any national security threats.

The proposed legislation moves to the Senate next, where it’s not clear if lawmakers will take up the bill. In a statement to The Hill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Senate “will review the legislation when it comes over from the House.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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