Kennedy to File Lawsuit to Protect Free Speech on TikTok

Kennedy to File Lawsuit to Protect Free Speech on TikTok
Adam Garrie | May 3, 2024

by Adam Garrie, The Kennedy Beacon

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced he will file a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s April 24

Kennedy’s announcement came shortly after President Biden signed the controversial ban into law. In its initial form, the legislation was passed by the House in March, as reported by The Kennedy Beacon. Under the terms of the newly-signed legislation, the earliest the TikTok ban could start is January 2025, so the platform will be live through the November election.

What is the TikTok ban?

This new law forces the divestiture of the US assets and operational control of TikTok by the Chinese based, Cayman Island-registered company ByteDance. Should the company refuse to divest, TikTok will be shut down in the US. Although the bill cites “TikTok” and “ByteDance” it could be applied against any company “controlled by a foreign adversary” operating a social media app with at least 100,000 users.

According to Demand Sage, TikTok has 1.56 billion monthly users globally and is the fifth most popular social media platform, with roughly 170 million users in the US. Nearly 70% of TikTok users are between the ages 18 – 34.

The new law is both vague and broad in its definition of the terms “controlled” and “foreign adversary.” While short on specifics, it targets any “foreign person” with a 20% or greater stake in a tech company, even if the company is incorporated in the US or majority-owned by Americans. A company could be forced to divest if an American executive at the company is subject to decisional control by a foreign person deemed to be from an adversarial country. The law also applies to companies owned outright by a “foreign adversary,” although the legislation does not provide a list of which nations are considered adversarial for the purposes of future bans.

Public companies and most large private companies have international stakeholders, thus the law could subject most tech companies to a forced divestiture.

It could also be enforced against people and entities from beyond China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela, the six countries officially named by the State Department as adversaries. This of course does not stop trade between China and the US – the two largest trading partners in the world.

Making the passage of the bill all the more puzzling is the fact that there is a long existing enforcement mechanism that the government can take against allegedly maleficent foreign investment via the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). In 2022, there were calls to stop Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter using CFIUS, due to Musk relying on investors from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and China, a strategy President Biden agreed was “worth being looked at,” as reported by CBS News.

Why replicate existing federal powers? Unlike CFIUS which relies on intricate inter-agency cooperation, the new law gives virtually untethered discretion to the president regarding the enforcement of corporate bans. This is why Representative Thomas Massie called the legislation a “trojan horse.”

What Kennedy is doing about it

As a TikTok user with 1.2 million followers, Kennedy has standing to file his lawsuit, as he would be directly impacted by the law’s enforcement.

In announcing his intent to sue, Kennedy expressed skepticism at the claim that the law is designed to protect Americans from Chinese data harvesting. He pointed out that the company is not majority Chinese owned while also highlighting the fact that American tech companies regularly harvest user data. As reported by Reuters in 2022, Meta paid $725 million to settle a class action lawsuit in which the company allegedly passed on user data to third party companies with dubious political agendas, without obtaining user consent.

Kennedy added, “Congress and the administration don’t understand that TikTok is an entrepreneurial platform for thousands of American young people.” He continued, “They want to screw them over just so they can pretend to be tough on China. The TikTok ban is yet another example of how neither political party has any compunctions about sacrificing your freedoms, rights, and choices, when it serves their political interests.”

According to tech news website HubSpot, “half of Gen Z consumers” use TikTok. As such, the country’s oldest president is directly attacking a social media platform defined by its young users.

Kennedy has consistently weighed in on protecting the rights of Americans to freely use social media. He was involved in a separate lawsuit currently being debated by the US Supreme Court in which lower courts found substantial unconstitutional meddling by the Biden administration in the censorship of protected speech on US platforms.

A political dogpile

The legislation’s journey to the president’s desk has been awkward. In February of 2024, when appearing before a Senate committee, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) asked TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi if he had ever been a “member of the Chinese Communist Party” to which a visibly shocked Chew replied that he is Singaporean. Singapore has long standing friendly relations with the US and is not an “adversarial” nation.

An even stranger development came when sponsor and strong advocate of the TikTok ban, Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas), bought $700,000 of Meta stock in the weeks before the law was passed. As the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, Meta stands to benefit greatly from a TikTok ban.

What’s next?

The forced divestiture or ban of TikTok will not come into force for just under 300 days. This means that TikTok will be operational in the months leading up to the 2024 election.

TikTok’s CEO has said that the company will fight against the legislation in US courts and, in any case, would sooner shut down its US operations than divest its valuable assets to a rival.

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