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TikTok urges users to call Congress to fight possible ban| GuyWhoKnowsThings


Washington lawmakers introduced a bill this week requiring TikTok to cut ties with its Chinese parent company or face a ban in the United States. When many users opened the popular app on Thursday, the company greeted them with a message to oppose the legislation, prompting a flurry of phone calls to various offices on Capitol Hill.

“Stop TikTok Shutdown,” the message on the app read. It included a button for people to call their representatives and say, “Let Congress know what TikTok means to you and tell them to vote NO.”

By midday, members of Congress's phone lines were swamped with calls, according to posts from lawmakers' staff members at X and two congressional aides with knowledge of the situation. Some of the callers appeared to be teenagers, while others hung up as soon as they connected, attendees said. One of the aides said his office had received about a hundred calls. A staff member posted a screenshot on X showing that TikTok too sent a push alert for some users.

Some users said on X that they couldn't use the app before making the call. TikTok told The New York Times that users could swipe right to get rid of the message, which may have been confusing because users typically swipe up to see the next video in the app. The company also said that the “X” to close the page was not visible to some users at first, but that it later fixed it.

Technology companies have often tried to mobilize users in response to legislation, but rarely is the effort so overt.

Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the legislation 50-0 on Thursday. Their goal is to force TikTok's Chinese owner, ByteDance, to sell the app. The House bill is one of various efforts over the past year has aimed to restrict TikTok over concerns that ByteDance's relationship with Beijing poses national security risks.

Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., co-sponsors of the bill, criticized TikTok's message, saying it was misleading. “Here we have an example of an adversary-controlled app that lies to the American people and interferes with the legislative process in Congress,” they said.

TikTok declined to answer questions about the strategy and how many users its campaign reached. He had previously said lawmakers' fears were unfounded, including because its U.S. operations and user data are shielded from the rest of the organization.

The legislation faces a long road to becoming law. Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, speaker of the House, said Thursday that he supported the bill. If the full House approves the legislation, it will go to the Senate.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who introduced his own legislation targeting the app, said he had some concerns about how the new bill directly names TikTok and ByteDance, a fact that may be cited in a legal challenge to the legislation. . But he said, “I have tremendous respect for Congressman Gallagher and I'm going to take a close look at this bill.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, determines what legislation the full Senate considers. His spokeswoman did not respond to a question about whether he supported the TikTok legislation.

Mike Nellis, a Democratic digital strategist and former senior adviser to Kamala Harris, said TikTok alerting users was a “smart organizing tactic.”

But he added: “I would be concerned if the tactic would backfire and highlight the real problem, which is that a foreign-owned technology company has so much influence within the United States.”

Nellis, who has worked on ad campaigns through TikTok, also said: “I can imagine members of Congress feeling more pressure than before to take action, after being inundated with calls like this.”

On Thursday afternoon, the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a memo to lawmakers' offices with tips on how to respond to the deluge of calls. The memo, which was obtained by The Times, presented the committee's arguments in favor of the bill and “phone scripts” to respond directly to callers.

One of the scripts suggested that staff members tell callers that “TikTok has been lying about the bill” and that the app “has worked very hard to hide” its relationship with China.

“The bill requires TikTok to sever that relationship,” the committee script said. He advised staff members to tell callers that when the app did that, “they could continue using TikTok” without Chinese influence.




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