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Biden just signed a potential TikTok ban into law. What happens next?

Apr 24, 2024, 12:15 PM | Updated: Apr 25, 2024, 11:05 am

A phone screen displays the TikTok logo...

Congress finalized legislation on April 23 that could lead to a nationwide TikTok ban, escalating a massive threat to the company’s US operations.(Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

(Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden signed a bill Wednesday that could lead to a nationwide TikTok ban, escalating a massive threat to the company’s US operations.

Congress had passed the bill this week as part of a wide-ranging foreign aid package meant to support Israel and Ukraine. It was approved by the House on Saturday, and by the Senate on Tuesday. The legislation poses the most serious risk to TikTok since US officials began raising concerns about the app in 2020. Under what is now US law, TikTok is forced to find a new owner within months or be banned from the United States entirely.

Here’s what we know and how it could affect you.

What does the TikTok legislation do?

The bill that Biden signed gives TikTok’s Chinese parent, ByteDance, 270 days to sell TikTok. Failure to do so would lead to significant consequences: TikTok would be prohibited from US app stores and from “internet hosting services” that support it.

Related: The House votes for possible TikTok ban in the US, but don’t expect the app to go away anytime soon

That would effectively restrict new downloads of the app and interaction with its content. Biden’s decision to sign the bill on Wednesday puts the deadline for a sale at January 19, 2025. Under the legislation, however, Biden could extend the deadline another 90 days if he determines the company’s made progress toward a sale, giving TikTok potentially up to a year before facing a ban.

What is TikTok saying?

TikTok is threatening legal action to oppose the law. In a video posted to TikTok, company CEO Shou Chew told users, “Rest assured: we aren’t going anywhere.”

“We are confident and we will keep fighting for your rights in the courts,” he added. “The facts and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to prevail.”

In a statement, a TikTok spokesperson called the law “unconstitutional” and said it “would devastate” the platform’s 170 million US users and 7 million businesses that operate on the app.

How a TikTok ban wind up in a bill about foreign aid?

A similar TikTok bill had been passed by the House in March, but it stalled in the Senate. In a procedural move, House Republicans this month attached a revised TikTok bill to the foreign aid package in hopes of forcing the Senate to vote on the TikTok legislation. Bundling the bill with the foreign aid — a top US priority — fast-tracked the TikTok bill and made it more likely to pass.

What does this mean for my use of the app?

If TikTok can’t separate from ByteDance by the deadline, then US TikTok users could hypothetically be cut off by mid-January. But that is still a big “if.” So for now, TikTok fans can continue using the app as before, though they might begin to see more creators — or the company itself — speaking out in the app to oppose the legislation.

What are TikTok’s options?

TikTok promised to take the US government to court if Biden signed the bill. In a memo on Saturday, a top TikTok executive wrote to employees that this would be the “beginning, not the end” of a long process to challenge what the company calls unconstitutional legislation that censors Americans’ speech rights and that would harm small businesses that depend on the app. In March, Chew vowed to continue fighting, “including (by) exercising our legal rights.”

Does TikTok have a case?

First Amendment experts say a bill that has the ultimate effect of censoring TikTok users could be shot down by the courts.

“Longstanding Supreme Court precedent protects Americans’ First Amendment right to access information, ideas, and media from abroad,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, policy director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “By banning TikTok, the bill would infringe on this right, and with no real pay-off. China and other foreign adversaries could still purchase Americans’ sensitive data from data brokers on the open market.”

A court challenge could lead to the measure being temporarily blocked while the litigation plays out, likely over multiple years. But if a court declines to grant a temporary injunction, TikTok could have to scramble to comply with the law.

So what if TikTok gets sold to someone else?

The trouble is that TikTok’s parent is subject to Chinese law, and the Chinese government is on record opposing a sale.

In recent years, China has implemented export controls governing algorithms, a policy that would seem to cover the incredibly successful algorithm that powers TikTok’s recommendation engine.

Related:Utah mom fears loss of followers and income if TikTok sold

If the Chinese government doesn’t want to let ByteDance relinquish TikTok’s algorithm, the thinking goes, it could block the sale outright. Alternatively, it may allow TikTok to be sold but without the lucrative algorithm that forms the basis for its popularity.

Can TikTok still succeed without its algorithm? That would be the difficult question facing the company in the event of a forced sale. Without the secret sauce that has propelled the app to 170 million US users, the app could be as good as dead.

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Biden just signed a potential TikTok ban into law. What happens next?