Tech

Is TikTok Facing its Final Act? US House Votes for Spin-Off, But Will It Stick?

Everything seems to have happened before.

On March 13, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on the Protection of Americans from Foreign Adversaries Control App Act, the most striking of which is to force TikTok to spin off its parent company ByteDance within 165 days, or TikTok will be removed from U.S. app stores.

The vote was 352 – 65, and supporters of the bill won an overwhelming victory for the time being, but the bill still needs a vote in the Senate and a signature by President Biden before it can take effect.

Similar things have indeed occurred frequently in recent years.

TikTok has faced serious crises or charges in the United States almost every year for the past four years.

Trump first banned TikTok in 2020, followed by Biden’s lifting of the ban in 2021; But soon, Biden began banning nearly 4 million federal employees from using TikTok on government devices in 2022; TikTok CEO Zhou was funded twice to attend congressional hearings in 2023 and 2024; and from 2020 to 2024, TikTok spent at least 30 times more on lobbying.

In the United States, TikTok failed to get a clean ending like it did in India, nor did it restart quickly after being banned as it did in Indonesia.

After many cries of “wolf coming,” TikTok and the U.S. government have been entangled repeatedly for four years, which has been full of all kinds of farce, show, play, dramatic appearance gradually concealed the more serious and complicated stand confrontation and interest dispute behind it.

Therefore, when the ban on TikTok in the United States resurfaces, no one can predict the fate of TikTok.

After all, no one knows if this time it was the last and only true sentence: “Wolf is coming.”

Magic versus magic.

On the evening of March 13, Zhou Shouzi posted a response video, wearing his usual suit and blue tie. In the comments section of social platform X, supporters of TikTok’s ban knocked: “His tie is crooked, he’s flustered and anxious in his voice.”

At the moment, TikTok is facing the fastest-growing ban crisis in history.

On March 5, the U.S. House of Representatives received a bipartisan bill called the Protection of Americans from Foreign Adversaries Control Applications Act.

The bill would prohibit “the distribution, maintenance or provision of Internet hosting services for applications controlled by foreign adversaries,” and apps from China, North Korea, Russia and Iran could be removed from U.S. app stores in the future.

The full text of the bill mentions only the names of two companies, TikTok and ByteDance, so that many people refer directly to the TikTok Divestiture Act.

On March 8, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the bill by a vote of 50:0, and the new bill entered the House voting session.

On March 13, the House passed the bill again by a vote of 352 to 65.

According to foreign media reports, Zhou received capital Zhou Zheng lobbying on Capitol Hill. After the House vote, he focused on senators whose attitude is unclear.

The most impressive thing for domestic netizens about Zhou Shouzi is that at the US hearing in February this year, in the face of questions from US lawmakers about nationality, Zhou Shouzi denied six consecutive times and revealed a “angry smile” expression. A friend sharply commented that Zhou Shouzi let her know what is really “angry smile”.

But this time, Zhou Shouzi in the response video looked serious and his tone was heavy.

He bluntly expressed his disappointment with the House vote and thanked users who had supported TikTok. More importantly, he said TikTok would not stop fighting, hoped users would not give up either, and encouraged TikTok users to insist on “making their voices heard.”

In fact, the same plea happened last year. In March 2023, in an attempt to reverse U.S. lawmakers ‘attitude toward TikTok, Zhou released a video asking users to express their love for TikTok in the face of congressional allegations that TikTok endangered U.S. data privacy. Of course, the “off-site” efforts failed, and TikTok at that time still had no room to argue in the face of questioning.

Unlike in previous years, TikTok has taken a more direct approach to resistance in the face of a more pressing crisis_pop-up calls for users to call Congress.

On March 7, the day before the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted, TikTok sent a pop-up notification to 170 million users, saying: “Let Congress know what TikTok means to you and ask them to vote against it.”

On March 8, voting day, TikTok’s pop-up window continued to push and continued to provide call links to U.S. lawmakers.

On March 11, two days before the House of Representatives voted unanimously, TikTok pushed a pop-up notification to users again. The huge white text on a black background at the top of the screen had changed from the original “Stop a TikTok shutdown” to “You voice can help the TikTok communities you love.”

Soon, congressional offices in parts of the United States said they had been inundated with calls from TikTok users. According to foreign media reports, the callers vary in age, with friendly questions about whether TikTok will be banned and fierce rhetoric.

After TikTok sent the pop-up message to users back to China, the attitude of domestic netizens was basically divided into two groups: some people were worried,”there might have been room for manoeuvre, so it was completely over,” while the other part refuted in the reply,”the knife is on the neck, still thinking about how to die slower, hard just”…

There are only two facts that can be confirmed.

One is to appeal to users to call Congress through pop-up windows, which is not unusual in the United States. Twitter, Uber and Reddit have all adopted similar methods in the past.

The second is that TikTok has not made “serious” efforts, but they have been ignored.

As early as last year’s hearing, Zhou introduced TikTok’s “Project Texas” in the United States. The main purpose of the project is to maintain the data security of U.S. users. Through cooperation with Oracle in the United States, TikTok U.S. users ‘data will be stored separately. At the same time, TikTok has set up a separate US Data Security Team (USDS) in the United States.

Today,$1.5 billion in upfront investment, plus more than $1 billion in annual maintenance costs, has not helped TikTok secure a future.

TikTok eventually learned to play emotional cards and seize the “American magic” of public opinion.

Who is anxious, who is not anxious, who is anxious also useless?

“Facebook is the enemy of the people!”

On March 8, on Truth Social, a social networking site he founded, Trump took the lead in posting against TikTok and circled Facebook: “If TikTok is banned, Facebook’s business will double.””I don’t want Facebook, which was suspected of cheating in the last election, to develop better.”

It’s hard to say whether Facebook is an enemy of the American people, but Trump was once a real enemy of TikTok.

In 2020, Trump accused TikTok of posing a threat to U.S. national security, demanding that ByteDance divest TikTok of all its interests in U.S. operations within 90 days and sign two executive orders within a month. It was not until 2021, when Biden came to power, that the Trump administration’s ban on TikTok was fully lifted.

There is nothing more dramatic than a 180-degree reversal.

In an interview with local media on March 11, Trump explained: “There are a lot of young people on TikTok who would go crazy without TikTok.”

However, according to the survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, Trump’s attitude change may be inseparable from his desire for young people’s votes. “One-third of American adults under 30 regularly browse news on TikTok,” the survey said.

Some sources allegedly familiar with Trump also told Time magazine in the United States: “Part of Trump’s calculation is to gain support from young voters by protecting their favorite platforms.”

In fact, Trump is not the only one playing this wishful thinking.

On Feb.11, Biden’s re-election campaign entered TikTok and released its own campaign video, hoping to woo young voters on TikTok and broaden its channels through what is now America’s most popular social platform.

However, also on March 8, Biden also made a “face-to-face” remark. Before a campaign event that day, Biden was asked by reporters about his attitude toward the TikTok spin-off bill, and Biden replied that if the bill could finally be sent to his desk, he would sign it.

The bill is now one last step away from reaching his desk, a vote in the Senate.

At present, Biden’s latest video comment area on TikTok is filled with voices opposing the divestiture bill, such as “Keep TikTok” and “We need TikTok.”

On social platforms X and TikTok, many young Americans vented their dissatisfaction with the bill: “This is too funny!” Politicians worry more about a social platform than homelessness, budget deficits, illegal immigration, health care reform, illegal drugs, etc.”

Looking at the above alone, it is hard not to mistake the eyes of all Americans for watching the TikTok spin-off bill, but that may not be the case.

There is a silent majority everywhere, and behind a crowd of exaggerated and clear-cut opposition videos on the Internet, not every American user cares about the crisis TikTok faces today.

A friend studying in the United States commented: “I think Americans really don’t care, even if TikTok is really banned, it will be a long time from the bill comes into effect to the actual action, most people may just be able to spend a day is a day, tomorrow’s things tomorrow.”

According to Google Trends ‘popularity index, search popularity for the keyword “TikTok Ban” did not increase significantly from March 7, when TikTok popped up, to the day before the House vote. Although on March 12, the entry “TikTok Ban” finally rose to the top of the hot search, but soon the popularity dropped again.

U.S. users paid attention to it briefly, and the next day it was Pi Day, breast cancer risk assessments, and the latest gossip from the British royal family.

For domestic users, the most affected by the TikTok divestiture bill is undoubtedly the cross-border merchants who open stores in TikTok Shop in the United States. But counterintuitive trends are also unfolding. According to GoodsFox data owned by Mi Yun, after TikTok pushed the pop-up window on March 7, the number of materials released in TikTok America did not change much. On March 8, the daily GMV of TikTok America increased by 28.97%.

Some domestic cross-border merchants said: “We have no ability to change the big environment, we can only face it optimistically.” To some extent, cross-border merchants have similar indifference to silent users in the United States. They can earn a day’s money in one day. At the same time, they can accelerate the layout of multi-channels and multi-countries. After all, there is still nearly half a year’s buffer time.

When predicting the future becomes an extravagant hope, every ordinary person who cannot change everything can only choose to live in the present.

How long can you cry wolf?

At the beginning of the story, no one expected TikTok to grow into a product with 170 million U.S. users and more than 1 billion monthly lives.

In the early days of TikTok’s entry into the U.S. market, the trend darling of young Americans was an app called Snapchat. Few people know that Snapchat executives discussed whether to allow TikTok to advertise on their platform to gain new users, according to foreign media reports, and the result was that there was no need to manage a small app like TikTok.

Now, as TikTok becomes more and more influential in the United States, even if it does nothing, it will be pulled out every year. The TikTok divestiture bill was proposed and voted on in the House of Representatives in just a week, and when “banning TikTok” became an emotional expression of American politicians, many people may once again ignore its possible impact.

Legally speaking, the implementation of the TikTok Act is likely to violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In 2020, when WeChat was also banned in the United States, the WeChat User Federation helped WeChat prevent the ban from being enforced after suing for violating the First Amendment.
That’s exactly what some lawmakers who oppose the TikTok divestiture bill are saying: “TikTok is where people express their ideas, and there are a lot of content creators in my area, and I think it’s going to have a huge impact on them.”
In practice, stripping TikTok is not that easy.

In 2020, TikTok is valued at $50 billion, and ByteDance was valued at $180 billion in the last round of funding that year; in 2024, the latest valuation of ByteDance has grown to about $268 billion, and you can imagine how high TikTok’s current valuation can be. Even if TikTok is willing to sell its U.S. business, who can afford it is a question.

At the same time, TikTok’s relationship with American society has become closer, both in terms of user habits and business economics.

Data show that two-thirds of U.S. citizens use TikTok, with more than 150 million users spending more than 90 minutes a day on TikTok on average; an estimated 7 million U.S. small and medium-sized businesses engage in business through TikTok.

Beauty brand Love&Pebble is one in 7 million of the profits made on TikTok. After the TikTok spin-off bill was proposed, the founder of the brand said in an interview with foreign media that “this will be a devastating blow” and gave a shocking number: “Almost 90% of sales come from TikTok.”

When TikTok gets big enough, it means more local U.S. businesses are involved, affecting not only ByteDance as its parent company, but 7 million U.S. small and medium-sized businesses.

Compared with the vigorous House of Representatives, the Senate recently said it would not move the voting process too quickly.

Many professionals analyzing the bill will describe it as a legislative ban that is more “aggressive” than previous Trump executive orders. TikTok is indeed at its most precipitous moment, but in turn, this may just indicate that TikTok is at its strongest moment.

It is no longer just a chip that is repeatedly used, but a “powerful life form” worthy of being taken seriously.

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