EDIT: Emily and Skye are signing off, but they'll monitor for any other questions not already asked.

Thanks for much for your questions and interest in this topic. We appreciate your time and for reading! Have a great week! - Molly (social editor)

PROOF: https://i.redd.it/tlgnkkvbmzqa1.jpg

TikTok has faced scrutiny in recent months from state officials to federal lawmakers over the Chinese government’s access to and influence over US users. The popular social media app has faced bans at every level—on college campuses, across most state governments, and within the halls of Congress. But a country-wide ban, which federal lawmakers are now considering, faces some hurdles.

It’s been interesting to see lawmakers coming to the defense of TikTok after the bipartisan concerns raised at the hearing with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew. Not much is expected to get done in the current divided government, but opposition to TikTok is one of the few issues with enough momentum on both sides that we might see something pass.

Answering questions today:

Skye is reporter with Bloomberg Law covering consumer privacy and data security. He primarily follows litigation happening in the courts, but also reports on how other branches of government engage with privacy and cybersecurity issues.

Emily is a reporter with Bloomberg Government in Washington, D.C. covering Congress and campaigns and recently wrote a story about how House progressives are pushing back on efforts to ban TikTok. She is also excited to answer any questions you have generally about Congress.

What do you want to know?

Comments: 440 • Responses: 17  • Date: 

Orionsbeltandhat501 karma

What are your thoughts on the RESTRICT act being called the Patriot Act part II? Could it be used nefariously against normal American citizens?

bloomberggovernment288 karma

Gonna try to answer this one and a few below - There’s been some reporting out there that the bill as currently written is too broad and could lead to wider restrictions than just the app.

Sen. Rand Paul did oppose the bill because he felt it was overly broad and former GOP Rep. Justin Amash is also warning the bill could be abused by the US government. There's a real chance we could hear these concerns grow louder as more lawmakers look into the bill.

That said, I haven't heard too many VPN specific concerns have yet to hit Capitol Hill - yet.

Remember, RESTRICT has only been introduced. It still needs to be

-Marked up in a Senate committee

-Passed on the Senate floor

-Marked up in a House committee

-Passed on the House floor

(And likely has a lot of other steps in between.)

(edited to clarify that Emily answered this one and not Skye - although he's welcome to add to this as well!)

jmsprintz265 karma

There has been a lot of talk that this bill is being used to sneak in language that would make it illegal to use a VPN to access sites or products that are “banned” in one form or another. This is obviously concerning as certain state governments are becoming more zealous in their filtering of media that they deem inappropriate according to their religious doctrine and fascist agenda.

Can you please help clarify if this concern is appropriate given the actual contents of the bill? What would the fallout of something like be and how enforceable on a state level?

bloomberggovernment19 karma

Hey! Tried to answer this one in my response to Orionsbeltandhat - happy to elaborate further if needed

(Edited to add it was Emily who responded)

shaggysnorlax174 karma

I've been in an ongoing debate with a lawyer friend over the applicability of the RESTRICT Act. His take is that the RESTRICT Act is only applicable to specific foreign adversaries and entities controlled/influenced by them. Mine is that the language surrounding the applicability is both nebulous enough to encompass more than that and allows for the government to change the scope unilaterally to apply anywhere as convenient. Are either of us correct or is the answer a bit more nuanced than that?

bloomberggovernment21 karma

Determining the borders of the RESTRICT Act isn't my exact area of expertise, but the bill does only apply to technology that has connections with countries the Commerce Department deems as "foreign adversaries." You can read the bill here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/senate-bill/686/text?s=1&r=15

That said, some policy analysts have expressed concerns about the broad nature of the language. The real questions about applicability would come up during the regulatory process if this became law, but I'll also caveat that this proposal has many steps to go (as Emily also noted). If we do see this proposal pick up momentum, I'd expect to see a legal challenge from TikTok, as we did in 2020 when former president Donald Trump tried to ban the app.

I'd love to hear more about what informs your take, and maybe I can provide a more satisfying answer! - Skye

bloomberggovernment-5 karma

Hey! Tried to answer this one in my response to Orionsbeltandhat - happy to elaborate further if needed


Natryska134 karma

Why is TikTok and its CEO being interrogated with what seem to be very tech-illiterate questions? Nothing I saw in the hearing came off as members of Congress understanding how social media, much less the Internet itself, actually function.

bloomberggovernment47 karma

Here's part of the answer I gave to a similar question above:

You're right that many members of Congress are not asking the sharpest questions when it comes to tech. Why? Because tech is relatively new ground for Congress.

A lot of these lawmakers have been dealing with things like healthcare and infrastructure and education for decades. Getting more tech-savvy elected officials is a factor of time/the folks electing them.

I don't want to excuse any lawmakers for not asking better questions on this, but precedent does play a role here. Congress has been legislating on things like labor and immigration for centuries. Facebook didn't even exist until 2004. There's a learning curve. -Emily

orlyyarlylolwut85 karma

Without offering my own biases or expecting a full-fledged response in a comment, any professional insights you could offer over the argument that China having access to users' data is more dangerous than the American government having access? How much seems to be legitimate geopolitical fears and how much seems to be fearmongering?

bloomberggovernment68 karma

Great question! US officials do seem genuinely concerned about whether the Chinese government can access the data of US TikTok users, primarily because of China’s National Intelligence Law, which requires organizations and citizens to "support, assist in and cooperate in national intelligence work in accordance with the law" (English translation of the law here).

Concerns about data access seem most acute in the military arena (Navy and Army banned TikTok back in 2019) and in relation to finances (for example, West Virginia has limited a TikTok ban to only the state's auditor office, which handles financial and payroll info).

While US officials raising these concerns haven't provided evidence that this kind of state-backed data intrusion has occurred yet, several employees at TikTok's parent company were fired after accessing the data of two US journalists last year.

However, TikTok is adamant that it won't and has not shared US user data with the Chinese government. They also haven't provided any supporting evidence on that front. - Skye

m0i0k0e063 karma

Shouldn't the emphasis be on the algorithm which can expose users to dangerous content while controlling which people and political movements get users' attention; as well as promoting addictive content that can be harmful to users' mental health?

bloomberggovernment92 karma

This right here is the crux of the argument Reps. Jamaal Bowman, AOC and other progressive lawamkers are making: why are we focusing on TikTok when so many issues exist on all social media platforms?

If you talk to those who support a TikTok ban, they'll tell you things like user privacy, user data, the algorithms and guardrails for children are all important. And a lot of bills have been introduced addressing these concerns.

However, most of those bills stalled last Congress over internal disagreements in both parties.

If you want to understand why bills to ban TikTok have more momentum, just look at the strong bipartisan votes behind things like creating the "Select Committee on Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party."

No lawmaker wants to be seen as "weak" on China's government right now, and TikTok has become a part of that push.-Emily

Apolog3ticBoner49 karma

What difference between TikTok and other apps (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) that gather personally identifiable information warrants banning TikTok specifically?

bloomberggovernment58 karma

The major difference between TikTok and other apps is that TikTok is owned by a Chinese company (ByteDance) and the other apps are not.

Most lawmakers acknowledge that all social media platforms have issues with gathering information, user privacy, algorithms, and how to keep younger users safe.

However, legislation addressing wider changes to all that has been stalled in Congress.

There's more momentum around TikTok right now because there's more momentum in Congress around boosting national security as it relates to China's government. -Emily

TuckerCarlsonsOhface32 karma

Can’t they (Chinese government) just buy the info from sites like Facebook anyway?

bloomberggovernment37 karma

This isn't my area of expertise, but you're right, in the past FB has shared data with Chinese companies.

One difference is that China's government has a 2017 law that could force companies to hand over their data (per the FBI and CIA.)

If you're a US lawmaker, you can have some say on what US social media companies can do with their data. You don't have that control with a foreign-owned company.

kracer2045 karma

Is there any truth to the rumor I've seen that Meta (Facebook) has spent many $$$'s hiring lobbyists to help push the ban of Tik Tok?

bloomberggovernment50 karma

So I can answer part of this question.

In 2022, Meta spent $19.15M on lobbying the federal government.That same year, ByteDance spent $5.38M.(Twitter spent $1.32M, Snap Inc -Snapchat- spent $680K.)

Source is OpenSecrets

So we know Meta spent much more on lobbying last year compared to ByteDance.

What's harder to say is what exactly Meta was lobbying on. We could do a search for bills (here's a website that will allow you to do that for the House) but we can't really say how they were lobbying on the bill and what they were asking for.

I do think it's safe to say that because FB and Insta have similar features to TikTok, Meta could benefit if TikTok was banned in the US.

throwbacklyrics33 karma

Seems like Congress does not know how technology works, nor are they having a good-faith discussion with the public and TikTok about what security measures they can implement to actually satisfy privacy and national security dangers. Do you know if people in Congress actually want to help solve the TikTok problem or are they just witch hunting here? There are papers out on what TikTok is doing to secure US, but I haven't heard which part of that project is actually not good enough for the government.

bloomberggovernment24 karma

Gonna try to break this down a bit:
1. You're right that many members of Congress are not asking the sharpest questions when it comes to tech. Why? Because tech is relatively new ground for Congress.

A lot of these lawmakers have been dealing with things like healthcare and infrastructure and education for decades. Getting more tech-savvy elected officials is a factor of time/the folks electing them.

  1. There are 535 voting members of Congress.

Do some of them want to address the concerns TikTok in good faith? Yes.

Are some of them using TikTok to capitalize on the negative opinion Americans have of the Chinese Communist Party for their own benefit? Yes.

Are some of them simply focused on other things? Yes.


Kaliotron27 karma

Tiktok, Bytedance, or any company at all is not cited in this bill whatsoever. How is it the "ban Tiktok bill" if there's nothing in it targeting Tiktok?

This bill was introduced by Senator Mark Warner, a man with 20+ years in the communications technology business. The bill is written very broadly for someone who should have knowledge on the technology at hand. Do you believe the public has anything to worry about, in that this bill is not looking to ban Tiktok, but instead target anyone they want with anything they want using its' broad powers?

bloomberggovernment12 karma

So TikTok isn't the first tech platform from another country to face these kinds of concerns, and the RESTRICT Act seems to be Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. John Thune's attempt at creating a framework that can uniformly address them now and in the future. You're correct that TikTok and BytDance aren't mentioned once in the bill, but it's been labled as that because it would allow the Commerce Department to effectively ban tech from any "foreign adversary."

The bill contains more specifics on how foreign adversaries would be identified, but it includes China in a list of existing foreign adversaries. Because TikTok is owned by parent company ByteDance, which is headquartered in Beijing, China, the app would therefore be subject to the limitations outlined in the RESTRICT Act.

But to your point, the bill isn't explicitly targeting TikTok and would affect plenty of tech beyond the social media app. - Skye

Hothera14 karma

During the TikTok hearings, Congress seemed to be more interested in collecting sound bites than learning enough about TikTok to regulate it without resorting to broad language that can be abused. Do you think that the media can do something to reward effective policy making rather than meaningless virtue signalling?

bloomberggovernment6 karma

As someone who has covered Congress for years (including attempts to modernize Congress) the problem lies in the larger structure of Congress.

As a member, you're assigned to a few different committees and subcommittees. Those committees might meet at the same time - which means you're left running from one to another.

Plus, you only have five minutes. As someone who interviews people for a living, that is NOT a lot of time.

Oh, and you likely also have a number of other meetings and events throughout the day. Plus votes.

Check out the Modernization Committee if you want to see another model for how hearings could be done.


MS_1259 karma

What are the chances that the RESTRICT act passes?

bloomberggovernment10 karma

In the last Congress (Jan 3, 2021- Jan 3, 2023) a whopping 7% of bills that were introduced became law. That's about the average amount for the last 50-some years. Source

The RESTRICT Act does have some things going for it. It's truly bipartisan, which makes it more likely to pass. There's interest among both House and Senate leadership, which is also key.

But RESTRICT has a long way to go. It needs to be marked up in a Senate committee, and then needs to pass in the Senate. Will the House take up that bill? Will they try to do their own? If the later, can both chambers reconcile their bills? Are we going to see issues in the House as the GOP has a four-vote margin that has tripped up far less controversial bills?

A lot of bills take time to pass. They get reintroduced again and again and again before they pass (if they ever pass.)

Of the 4,000+ bills that have been introduced since Jan 3, RESTRICT is one of the several dozen I'm keeping an eye on. But it's too soon to say whether it lands on Biden's desk. -Emily

arvigeus8 karma

Do you (or your family) use TikTok? Why?

bloomberggovernment16 karma

I don't use it, but this is mostly because I waste all of my time on Reddit and hence have no more to spend on TikTok!

bloomberggovernment7 karma

I've been asked this many times - I used TikTok during college but deleted it before the ban debate got hot. I no longer use it or have it downloaded in an effort to reduce my social media consumption. - Skye

gravit-e4 karma

Why is this story so heavily reported? Would my thinking that it’s over reported be completely out of line? To explain RT for example is a known kremlin controlled news outlet that has never been reported on this heavily, even during election interference questions. I mean Russia and china may not be in the same league world power wise, but there’s certainly a questionable difference in the handling.

bloomberggovernment7 karma

Great question - it's important for journalists and the news industry at large to be thoughtful about what is covered and how. I don't have hard numbers on TikTok ban coverage compared to other events in the world, so I can't truly assess the amount of attention the topic is receiving, but anecdotally we're covering this developing issue (among many others) because TikTok is a massive social media platform, with over 150 million monthly users in the US. The complete removal of that app would affect millions of content creators and small businesses on the platform, so that's just one reason we're writing about it.

It's hard to say for sure why you haven't seen RT cover this without inside knowledge, but I will note that it's a state-owned news outlet. And, given the comparably tense diplomatic relationship between the US and China vs. China and Russia, it's likely that US public officials are talking about this much more attention than anyone in Russia. - Skye