Donald Trump changes tack on TikTok to oppose US efforts to ban the app

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Donald Trump has come out against congressional efforts targeting TikTok, changing his stance on the popular video-sharing app by saying that banning it would benefit Meta’s Facebook.

Hours after a powerful congressional committee voted 50-0 to advance a bill that would force China’s ByteDance to divest ownership of TikTok, the former US president took to his Truth Social media platform to oppose the legislation.

“If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckershmuck will double their business,” Trump wrote late on Thursday, in a reference to Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. “I don’t want Facebook, who cheated in the last Election, doing better. They are a true Enemy of the People!”

Meta suspended Trump’s Facebook and Instagram accounts following his support for the insurrection on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. The social media group reinstated him last year.

Trump’s opposition to the congressional effort to stop China from having any influence on TikTok comes even though his administration was the first to target the video-sharing app back in 2020 and the measure has drawn widespread support from other Republicans.

Mike Pence, who served as Trump’s vice-president, and House Speaker Mike Johnson, were among the senior Republicans voicing support for the bill this week.

In August 2020, Trump threatened to ban TikTok as he stepped up pressure on China at a moment when he was under pressure for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, which spread from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Trump later said TikTok could survive if it was sold to a US company — the same outcome lawmakers are trying to engineer with the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act”.

He issued an executive order in 2020 that was designed to force ByteDance to divest TikTok, but the effort was blocked in US courts. The current bill has been written in a way that lawmakers hope will overcome legal objections related to free speech constraints.

The White House supports the legislation, even though President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign is using the app.

Following Thursday’s vote by the House energy and commerce committee, the full House is expected to vote on the bill next week.

It remains unclear what effect Trump’s intervention will have on the vote and whether some Republicans will shift their position given that he faces no remaining competition for the party’s presidential nomination.

On Thursday, Democrats and Republicans ignored a lobbying campaign by TikTok, which used its app to prompt thousands of users to call their representatives, in unanimously passing the bill.

The measure would ban app stores from distributing TikTok if ByteDance had not divested its stake within six months of the bill becoming law. US lawmakers have rejected TikTok’s claim that they are trying to ban the app, stressing that it can remain in use as long as its connection to China is severed.

With 170mn US users, more than half the country’s population have downloaded TikTok on their devices. US security professionals, including most recently FBI director Christopher Wray, have raised increasing concerns about the app’s Chinese ownership.

They worry that Beijing could access the personal data of Americans because Chinese companies must hand over such information to their government if asked. They also worry it could use the app to influence voters in an effort to meddle in the American democratic system.

TikTok denies that the Chinese Communist party has any influence on the app through its parent company ByteDance. But US security officials and a broad range of lawmakers have dismissed that argument and pointed to suggestions that ByteDance employees in China have on occasion been able to access the data of Americans.

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