Life,  Tech

Ticking Clock: US Pushes for TikTok Divestiture

The United States House of Representatives ratified a decree mandating ByteDance to divest TikTok within 165 days, under the threat of prohibition within the nation. The ballot outcome reflected 352 affirmatives, 65 negatives, 1 abstention, and an absence of 14 individuals. Specifically:

The Republican faction (the predominant entity in the House of Representatives) cast 197 affirmatives, 15 negatives, and 7 absences;

The Democratic Party (the minority faction in the House of Representatives) contributed 155 affirmatives, 50 negatives, 1 abstention, with 7 individuals absent.

Evidently, the legislation advocating the “dismantlement or proscription” of TikTok garnered resolute and extensive bipartisan backing, a phenomenon notably scarce within the current polarized landscape of American politics. Previously, the legislation sailed unanimously through the House Energy and Commerce Committee, tallying a unanimous 50-0, prior to its submission for comprehensive deliberation before the full assembly.

Subsequently, the legislation must traverse two pivotal stages ere attaining statutory status: a senatorial adjudication followed by the imprimatur of the White House. Pertaining to the latter, presidential endorsement poses no quandary, as President Biden has unequivocally pledged to “affix his signature post the congressional ratification.” Furthermore, the White House spokesperson conceded that this legislation garnered “technical guidance” during its formulation phase.

The sole variable emanates from the Senate, where sundry senators have voiced dissent towards the legislation. Contrasted with the House of Representatives, the Senate accords greater salience to individual viewpoints and imposes no restrictions on deliberative duration (unless sanctioned by a supermajority consensus to curtail discussions), thereby potentially affording TikTok an extended reprieve, albeit not commensurate with the expeditious proceedings witnessed within the House of Representatives, concluded within a mere week.

Permit me to expound upon my prognostications concerning the ultimate destiny of TikTok, stipulating that they solely represent my personal conjecture:

Primarily, the likelihood of the TikTok “divestiture or proscription” legislation achieving fruition is exceedingly sanguine. Notwithstanding a marginally more vociferous dissent in the Senate vis-à-vis the House, it remains insufficient to alter the prevailing trajectory. Judging from extant momentum, the quantum of senatorial proponents for the legislation is poised to surpass the requisite supermajority threshold, thereby precluding obstruction through filibuster tactics; and I discern scant inclination among senators to embark upon protracted oratory diatribes in defense of TikTok’s interests.

Secondarily, purportedly, Zhou Shouzi has journeyed to Washington, poised to inaugurate a conclusive lobbying campaign before the U.S. Senate. I harbor reservations regarding the efficacy of such endeavors – the congressional hearings last year bore witness to Zhou Shouzi’s lackluster performance, yielding negligible outcomes and effecting no substantive metamorphosis. As a seasoned corporate steward, his agency is confined to exerting maximal effort whilst resigning to the whims of fate. If he succeeds in forestalling the legislation’s progression for a mere few days, it would be deemed a Pyrrhic triumph.

Tertiary, presupposing the legislation’s enactment and subsequent presidential endorsement, ByteDance could hypothetically challenge the legislation’s legitimacy through judicial recourse, ostensibly invoking violations of the First Amendment’s enshrined principles of free speech. Albeit many harbor sanguinity towards the prospects of legal redress, my apprehensions are multifaceted:

Congress and the Executive Branch have iterated ad nauseam that the legislation aims not to proscribe TikTok outright, but rather to effectuate a transference of control to an American enterprise; provided ByteDance completes divestiture within the stipulated 165-day timeframe, TikTok’s operations can persist. This delineation diverges from blanket proscriptions and is improbable to elicit judicial censure as a contravention of the First Amendment.

Even if ByteDance nurtures aspirations of legal victory, it must secure at least one favorable adjudication (potentially at any echelon of the federal judiciary) within the prescribed 165-day interval. Confronted with such a contentious dossier marked by unanimity of conviction from both parties, federal jurists are inclined towards judicious circumspection, possibly adjourning ad infinitum, thereby precipitating the expiration of the 165-day window.

Conversely, even in the event ByteDance secures a favorable adjudication within 165 days, the legislation may resurface through alternate modalities. Representative Maxwell Frost, who dissented during the House proceedings, averred his support for TikTok’s divestiture to an American enterprise, yet expressed reservations regarding procedural propriety, eschewing infringements upon the First Amendment. Given the overwhelming support for “TikTok divestiture” within the American political sphere, even in the event of the extant legislation’s nullification, it could resurface through alternative channels. One conceivable stratagem entails levying exorbitant fines upon ByteDance to compel divestiture – such legislation would prove arduous to challenge on First Amendment grounds.

Incidentally, antecedent to the House ballot, TikTok ostensibly launched a campaign targeting select American users, urging them to exert influence upon their congressional representatives. Discerning from the House’s voting calculus, this concerted effort yielded scant impact. If even congressional representatives remain impervious to “public sentiment,” it follows that senators, commanding a broader electoral constituency, would evince even greater insularity.

Ultimately, notwithstanding TikTok’s formidable user base within the United States, its principal demographic comprises the youthful cohort. As commonly acknowledged, American youth exhibit paltry enthusiasm towards civic participation, with minors under 18 bereft of suffrage rights, a negligible fraction evincing engagement in electoral processes, let alone the less consequential congressional elections vis-à-vis the presidential ballot. Ergo, even if they were to evince palpable discontent, congressional incumbents may remain unperturbed; furthermore, the magnitude of such discontent remains an enigma (likely marginal at best).

Consequently, what odds bespeak TikTok’s salvation from this predicament? The paradox inheres in the erstwhile President Trump. Mere hours antecedent to the House vote, Trump declaimed in an interview with CNBC his aversion towards TikTok’s proscription, postulating its propensity to consolidate Facebook’s dominion, epitomized by Zuckerberg’s ascendancy. Although Trump endeavored to compel TikTok’s divestiture via executive fiat in 2020, he evidently discerns Zuckerberg and his Silicon Valley ilk as the more formidable adversary.

During the recent Republican primaries, Trump reaffirmed his sway. Regardless of the tepid support he commands among Republican lawmakers, his pronouncements warrant earnest consideration. The conundrum lies in gauging Trump’s earnestness vis-à-vis TikTok. Moreover, Trump’s aversion was confined to TikTok’s prohibition, with no explicit disapproval towards divestiture. Given TikTok’s metamorphosis into a bastion of anti-Trump activism during the 2020 electoral fray, Trump’s vengeful disposition precludes outright endorsement.

Should Trump indeed oppose the legislation earnestly, one plausible motive might be his antithesis towards Biden’s endorsement. He could exploit this as a cudgel against his political adversaries, decrying them as habitual violators of the First Amendment (akin to his prior vitriolic diatribes against Facebook, Twitter, et al.). However, prudence dictates treating such an eventuality as remote, for notwithstanding Trump’s caprice, he remains no simpleton. The likelihood of him fashioning a tempest in this teapot remains remote, more akin to perfunctory utterances.

Another conceivable scenario entails protracted delays within the Senate precipitated by sundry exigencies (a commonplace occurrence). Given the incumbent electoral milieu in the United States, characterized by flux and uncertainty, one cannot discount the prospect of seismic upheavals transpiring. Should events transpire post-November, the potential variables multiply manifold. However, such a scenario’s realization remains improbable, for I struggle to envisage events of sufficient import transpiring within the imminent months to prompt a volte-face among most senators vis-à-vis TikTok. Can you fathom such an outcome?

For ByteDance, the crucible has but commenced. Mercifully, applications such as Temu and Shein from China remain unscathed by Congressional scrutiny, likely due to their status as e-commerce platforms replete with scant content moderation. One harbors hopes that they remain immune to similar regulatory scrutiny in the future, though the vicissitudes of fate render such prognostications tenuous.

Presuming the legislation’s enactment, yet ByteDance’s unwillingness or incapacity to effectuate divestiture within the prescribed 165-day window, TikTok would become the inaugural internet application in American annals to succumb to federal proscription. Pursuant to the legislation’s strictures, any app store shall be proscribed from hosting TikTok, whilst cloud and communication service providers shall be precluded from furnishing ancillary services. Such an eventuality would constitute an unprecedented juncture within American annals. Though one fervently hopes such a tableau remains consigned to the realm of conjecture, should providence afford me the opportunity to witness history firsthand, it shall constitute a singular form of serendipity.

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