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President Biden would ban TikTok. But candidate Biden is using it for his campaign

President Biden waves as he arrives at the White House on March 9, 2023.
Andrew Harnik
President Biden waves as he arrives at the White House on March 9, 2023.

The White House has thrown its support behind a bill in Congress that would effectively ban TikTok, the social media app that is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, in the United States.

The bipartisan legislation would require ByteDance to sell the app because of national security concerns about the way it uses and stores data — or face a ban.

"This bill is important, we welcome this step," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

The White House has long expressed concern about the national security risks of TikTok. In 2022, Biden signed a bill that banned the app on government phones.

But that risk hasn't stopped President Biden's own reelection campaign from joining the platform. Nearly a month ago, "BidenHQ" joined TikTok, as part of an effort to reach younger voters, who have been less enthusiastic about voting for Biden this November.

The White House doesn't see the bill as a ban on TikTok, though it would give the president the authority to ban it

The bipartisan bill, called the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, was introduced Tuesday.

The bill would give the president the authority to ban TikTok, because it prevents any apps controlled by ByteDance from appearing on app stores or on websites in the United States — unless the app severs ties to ByteDance.

But Jean-Pierre said the White House doesn't see the bill as a ban on TikTok but rather ensuring its "ownership isn't in the hands of those who may do us harm. This is about our national security, obviously," Jean-Pierre said.

"We would want to see this bill get done so it can get to the president's desk," she said.

The White House said it is working with lawmakers on the technical aspects of the bill to make sure it's on strong legal footing.

A ban on TikTok would likely be met with a legal challenge from the app, which previously sued the Trump administration in 2020 after the former president signed an executive order that tried to ban the app. The attempted ban was blocked by a federal judge.

ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. TikTok, though, believes the goal of the bill is for the app to be banned.

"This bill is an outright ban of TikTok, no matter how much the authors try to disguise it," Alex Haurek, TikTok spokesperson, said. "This legislation will trample the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform they rely on to grow and create jobs."

The Biden campaign joined TikTok to reach young voters

The White House itself does not use TikTok, though it does work with influencers on the app.

"We've said this before: we are going to try to meet the American people where they are," Jean-Pierre said.

The campaign has said its use of TikTok was a new and innovative way to reach voters, and that it is taking "advanced safety precautions" while using it.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.