TikTok gets thumbs up in China for ‘tough stance’ against US lawmakers pushing new effort to ban the ByteDance app

TikTok gets thumbs up in China for ‘tough stance’ against US lawmakers pushing new effort to ban the ByteDance app

TikTok gets thumbs up in China for ‘tough stance’ against US lawmakers pushing new effort to ban the ByteDance app

ByteDance, the Chinese tech unicorn that is again facing a US ban of its flagship TikTok app unless it divests, has earned a “thumbs up” at home after rallying its young users against the legislation in an effort mirroring some of the more aggressive tactics from American platforms several years ago.
That same year, the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Science and Technology introduced regulations that would likely prevent ByteDance from exporting its TikTok algorithms, the secret sauce of its success. That leaves the Chinese firm with little recourse beyond bringing the fight to Washington, which it did last week with in-app alerts to American users telling them to “speak up” against the new US legislation. A flood of calls to representatives angered lawmakers before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce advanced the bill in a 50-0 vote.
TikTok, a subsidiary of ByteDance, struck out on X, formerly Twitter, by rhetorically asking, “Why are Members of Congress complaining about hearing from their constituents? Respectfully, isn’t that their job?” ByteDance, however, has largely remained quiet on the matter except to deny a Wall Street Journal report that Zhang Yiming, who founded the company in Beijing in 2012, had been in touch with former Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick about a TikTok acquisition.

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The more aggressive push from TikTok quickly received praise in China.

Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of nationalist tabloid Global Times, said in a Sunday post on X that he supports “TikTok’s tough response”. Global Times is affiliated with People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s ruling Communist Party.

“TikTok doesn’t just stay still and wait for death,” Shanghai Observer, a news site under state-owned newspaper Liberation Daily, wrote a Friday report. “It has mobilised its users to fight back”.

The topic #TikTokUsersBombardUSCongressOfficesWithCalls also went viral on Chinese social platform Weibo, attracting more than 70 million views. The topic was the eighth most-trending topic at one point over the weekend, according to data from the microblogging site.

TikTok’s response this time around reflects some of the tactics used by US tech giants in a previous era of internet legislation. In 2012, several of the largest American platforms including Google, Reddit and Firefox developer Mozilla blacked out their websites or logos in response to an anti-piracy bill they argued would stifle internet freedom.


US lawmakers grill TikTok CEO on app’s alleged ties to Chinese Communist Party

US lawmakers grill TikTok CEO on app’s alleged ties to Chinese Communist Party

One Weibo user nicknamed XuGuliang pointed to another case in 2014, when Uber successfully lobbied against state legislation in Virginia by mobilising its users to fight back.

In recent years, however, internet platforms have been put on the defensive with a flurry of legislative proposals and regulations globally designed to curtail their influence and market power. These concerns are only heightened around TikTok in the US, where lawmakers worry the platform is unable to operate independently of Beijing.

Some Chinese netizens worried that TikTok’s fight could further irritate undecided US lawmakers into voting for the new bill, which President Joe Biden has said he will sign if passed.

“Flooded with calls, US officials may become more determined to stifle [TikTok],” wrote a Weibo user who goes by Roc_Xu.

Nearly a fifth of TikTok’s users are below the voting age of 18 years old, according to one estimate from Affable.ai in June 2023.

US President Joe Biden’s X account shown on a phone on February 12, 2024. Biden’s re-election campaign has also joined TikTok, which has caused a stir given his administration’s opposition to the app. Photo: AFP

The new bill from the US House of Representatives would require that app distribution platforms like Apple’s App Store and Google Play remove “foreign adversary controlled applications, such as TikTok” or other applications deemed to be controlled by people or entities based in or primarily operating out of countries considered adversaries.

With Biden now championing the bill, Trump – again the presumptive Republican nominee for this year’s presidential election – has reversed his stance.

“If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business,” the former president said on Friday in a post on his social media platform Truth Social, alluding to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook owner Meta Platforms.

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