What the Surprising US TikTok Bill Means for BookTok’s Survival

A contentious bill threatening access to TikTok leaves U.S. BookTokers anxious about the fate of their platform. Read on for details.

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On a good weather day, part of the White House is lit by the sun. An American Flag flows tall and in the wind.

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a highly sensitive bill that would force the popular social media platform, TikTok, to be sold to the United States from its Chinese owners or be banned in America over fear of national security breaches. Championed by Republicans, a clear bipartisan 352 to 65 vote sets into motion a future of political uncertainty between the U.S. and China, as well as for the businesses and creators who rely on TikTok to operate. The U.S.’s relationship with TikTok has always experienced challenges, yet, the almost undebated breakthrough push for this bill through the House comes at a critical time and leaves its million American users with burning questions.

Security Threat vs. Free Speech Violation

Since 2020, TikTok has repeatedly faced backlash from U.S. lawmakers because of proposed national security risks introduced by its parent company, ByteDance. Now, the Biden administration fears that these risks could interfere with the upcoming election. As of now, Biden has already placed restrictions on investments in Chinese companies by U.S. financial firms and the sale of American data to brokers with ties to China. President Biden will not force a nationwide ban if ByteDance can sell the app to trusted U.S. owners. Additionally, growing concern with the spread of misinformation, especially regarding the Israel-Hamas war, is another critical factor fueling the decision behind the bill.

An aerial image of the House of Representatives floor. In a circular room, dark brown desks are arranged in semicircles on a blue carpet, towards a larger, straighter desk and a judge's desk. An American flag is at the front of the room, and white marble pillars span from the floor to ceiling.

A National Security Council spokesperson called the bill on the House floor necessary progress in cybersecurity and protecting sensitive American data. On Capitol Hill, the National Security Council sent national security officials to privately encourage the law and issue warnings of the potential adverse outcomes TikTok’s current proprietorship imparts. Before the revolutionary bill passed through the House, the White House, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Justice Department advised lawmakers on the app’s possible security threats.

At a protest, a man in an orange, black, an white flannel holds up a paper sign with the words "Freedom of Speech" written in thick black marker and in all capital letters.

Some Republican and Democratic lawmakers view the ban as an infringement of the American people’s freedom of speech and think it would violate the First Amendment if it were to become law. Democratic Representative Maxwell Frost from Florida opposes the ban, claiming that students confided that TikTok is a vital source of honest, politically unobstructed news. Frost is concerned about the breaches in American data but believes this bill will not help in its protection.

China’s Comments

Beijing denied the U.S.’s security claims, stating that the U.S.’s actions are a poor resort to the threat of competition, and made it clear their opposition to selling the app. Sites like YouTube and Facebook are already blocked in China for the same security reasons. Having already taken measures to protect American users’ sensitive data and permitted U.S. third-party oversight, Beijing has cited zero evidence of Chinese privacy violations. Further, TikTok spent one million dollars on Project Texas, a plan isolating U.S. data from the company’s regular handling operations. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States continues to review the plan with no hope of a resolution. TikTok is turning towards its U.S. users to aid in opposing the bill, urging them to contact their representatives to stop the ban.

A woman with blonde hair, a black hat, and a black blazer presses record in the TikTok app. She has a rung on her finger, and her phone is held up by a tripod. The TikTok brand colors, blue and pink, border the image of the woman in diagonal lines.

Additionally, if this bill were to be finalized as law, it would likely strain relations between the two countries over shared technology like solar panels and electric vehicles. Or, it would not withstand the pressure of a new administration after the 2024 presidential election.

Unprecedented Support

The bipartisan vote resulted in surprising actions from multiple politicians across party lines. President Biden announced his support of the bill, yet the second Democrat of the House, Katherine Clark, condemns it. Shockingly, Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi was seen eagerly agreeing and conversing with hard-right Republicans during the debate.

The U.S. Capitol Building is filtered half and half in red and blue, representing the two political parties.

Former President Donald Trump disagrees with the legislation, coming out with a different opinion than what he originally stood for in 2020 when he attempted to force the app’s sale. He believes banning TikTok would increase the use of Facebook, another site he dislikes. But, his endorsers, like Elise Stefanik, voted in favor of the recent bill. Back in 2020, ByteDance refused to sell shares in TikTok, leading Trump to threaten its removal from app stores in the U.S. ByteDance appeared to be gearing up to sell a stake in TikTok to Walmart and Oracle, companies whose executives held close relationships with the former president.

A woman with long brown hair in a half-up style, a yellow puffer jacket, and a black shirt holds up a phone with a pink case. She appears to be talking in a video recording. She is lit by TikTok's brand colors, blue and pink, against a black background.

Senator and majority leader Chuck Schumer appears indifferent to seeing this bill to the Senate floor, while others are preparing to crusade. Its journey through the government is expected to face many legal challenges and intense criticism.

The Effects on the Influential BookTok Community

TikTok Spokesman Alex Haurek urges the United States to consider the potential negative impact of a ban on the economy. Seven million small businesses promote and conduct transactions on the app, and 170 million users are from the United States. One community of note is the BookTok Community, a rising app sector that recommends and discusses books. From BookTok, authors like Colleen Hoover have seen overnight success as fast-moving trends and bandwagons harness the ability to promote and sell books at extraordinary rates. For the creators themselves, not only does TikTok allow them a space to gush about their favorite books, but it also introduces them to other readers, authors, and publishers, broadening their connections and marketability.

@yannareads This trope is the best 💁🏼‍♀️ I said what I said #booktok #books #tbr #goodreads #romance #enemiestolovers ♬ original sound – ☆

Although BookTok has been criticized as the “fast-fashion” of literature, there’s no denying its power over the publishing and literary world. For example, BookTok hyped up Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, initially published in 2012, prompting the recent sale of two million copies. Publishers and authors have created their own TikTok accounts and send copies of their novels to Booktokers as a marketing strategy, sometimes paying creators to create content promoting a book. Famous bookseller Barnes & Noble and many independent bookshops developed their own TikTok channels and initiated partnerships with the app, partly relying on it as a sales tool. The recent uptick in bookstores’ consumer base may be partly because of TikTok.

@martacourtenay Replying to @kennahaley21 these are my children #thesongofachilles #achillesandpatroclus #tsoa #bookcollection #bookishswiftie #booktok ♬ original sound – Marta Courtenay

For creators, there are a few crucial items to be aware of regarding the House bill. If the app is installed on a device before the ban, it will not get deleted. However, blockades from app stores and hosting services would prevent updates from initiating, ultimately stopping the app from working. If the bill goes as far as President Biden’s desk and is passed into law, the ban would not immediately go into effect. The anticipated onslaught of legal battles would likely slow the final results of the bill. Further, it would be unlawful for TikTok to bar users from downloading their videos, meaning that the content could be saved and repurposed on other social media.

Social media is a double-edged sword. For years, it has worked as a catalyst for business success and increased vital information flow worldwide. The U.S.’s TikTok Bill may prevent catastrophic events, but it will also put an end to the remarkable benefits it has produced. It leaves many wondering if the suspected national security threats are legitimate enough to ban an app where people exercise their right to free speech, communicate with one another, and earn income from a hobby they love, boosting the overall economy. At what point does the government overstep its control over the media of its citizens?

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