TikTok and ByteDance Sue U.S. Government Over Potential Nationwide Ban

TikTok and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. federal government on May 7, 2024, contesting what they term an "unconstitutional" potential ban of the social media platform. The legal action challenges a law signed by President Joe Biden in April 2024, which mandates that ByteDance sell TikTok to a non-Chinese company within nine to twelve months or face a nationwide ban.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asserts that the new law infringes upon users' First Amendment rights. TikTok and ByteDance argue that this legislation, for the first time, targets a single speech platform for a nationwide ban, effectively preventing Americans from engaging with a global online community of over one billion users. The company’s 65-page petition emphasizes that such a ban would restrict the free speech rights of 170 million American users, harm 7 million businesses, and disrupt a platform contributing $24 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

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President Biden signed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act on April 24, 2024. This act was incorporated into a substantial $95 billion foreign aid package passed by Congress. The White House has yet to comment on the lawsuit. The administration and some congressional leaders maintain that the move against TikTok is justified due to national security concerns related to ByteDance’s connections with the Chinese government.

In its lawsuit, ByteDance disputes these security allegations, asserting that no concrete evidence has been presented to demonstrate that TikTok poses a risk to data security or is a conduit for foreign propaganda. The company contends that Congress has not provided sufficient justification for the act, arguing that the mandated timeline for selling the company is neither commercially, technologically, nor legally feasible.

ByteDance seeks a judicial ruling that the act is unconstitutional and an injunction to prevent Attorney General Merrick Garland from enforcing it. The lawsuit highlights that a similar ban in Montana, issued in May 2023, was blocked by a federal judge in November 2023 on the grounds that it violated First Amendment rights.

Public opinion on the issue is divided. An ABC News/Ipsos poll released on May 7, 2024, shows that a slight majority of Americans, 53%, support a ban on TikTok if it remains under Chinese ownership, while 44% oppose it. Additionally, 51% believe the U.S. government should enforce the sale of TikTok, compared to 46% who disagree.

Some social media influencers, business owners, and TikTok supporters have criticized the potential ban, expressing concerns about losing a significant platform for their businesses. Despite these objections, the majority of public support for the ban underscores the contentious nature of the issue as it continues to unfold in the courts and the public sphere.