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TikTok sues US to block law that could ban the social media platform

FILE – The TikTok logo is displayed on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen, Oct. 14, 2022, in Boston. On Tuesday, May 7, 2024, TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance filed suit against the U.S. federal government to challenge a law that would force the sale of ByteDance’s stake or face a ban, saying that the law is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
TikTok and its Chinese parent company filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a new American law that would ban the popular video-sharing app in the U.S. unless it’s sold to an approved buyer, saying it unfairly singles out the platform and is an unprecedented attack on free speech.
In its lawsuit, ByteDance says the new law vaguely paints its ownership of TikTok as a national security threat in order to circumvent the First Amendment, despite no evidence that the company poses a threat. It also says the law is so “obviously unconstitutional” that its sponsors are instead portraying it as a way to regulate TikTok’s ownership.
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“For the first time in history, Congress has enacted a law that subjects a single, named speech platform to a permanent, nationwide ban, and bars every American from participating in a unique online community with more than 1 billion people worldwide,” ByteDance asserts in the lawsuit filed in a Washington appeals court.
The law, which President Joe Biden signed as part of a larger foreign aid package, marks the first time the U.S. has singled out a social media company for a potential ban, which free speech advocates say is what would be expected from repressive regimes such as those in Iran and China.
The lawsuit is the latest turn in what’s shaping up to be a protracted legal fight over TikTok’s future in the United States — and one that could end up before the Supreme Court. If TikTok loses, it says it would be forced to shut down next year.
The law requires ByteDance to sell the platform to a U.S.-approved buyer within nine months. If a sale is already in progress, the company would get another three months to complete the deal. ByteDance has said it doesn’t plan to sell TikTok. But even if it wanted to divest, the company would need Beijing’s blessing. According to the lawsuit, the Chinese government has “made clear” that it wouldn’t allow ByteDance to include the algorithm that populates users’ feeds and has been the “key to the success of TikTok in the United States.”
TikTok and ByteDance say the new law leaves them with no choice but to shut down by next Jan. 19 because continuing to operate in the U.S. wouldn’t be commercially, technologically or legally possible. They also say it would be impossible for ByteDance to divest its U.S. TikTok platform as a separate entity from the rest of TikTok, which has 1 billion users worldwide — most of them outside of the United States. A U.S.-only TikTok would operate as an island that’s detached from the rest of the world, the lawsuit argues.
The suit also paints divestment as a technological impossibility, since the law requires all of TikTok’s millions of lines of software code to be wrested from ByteDance so that there would be no “operational relationship” between the Chinese company and the new U.S. app.
The companies argue that they should be protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression and are seeking a declaratory judgment that it is unconstitutional.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the suit Tuesday. And White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to engage on questions about why the president continues to use TikTok for his political activities, deferring to the campaign.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat who is the ranking member of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, issued a statement Tuesday defending the new law.

web-intern@dakdan.com

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