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The Clock TikToks Down
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The Clock TikToks Down

Could the latest congressional push to restrict the popular app succeed?

Happy Monday! We love losing an hour of sleep to daylight saving time as much as the next morning newsletter team, but what if instead the annual fast-forwarding took place at a less personally inconvenient time?

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • President Joe Biden told MSNBC on Saturday that he believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy in his nation’s war against Hamas in Gaza is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel.” Biden insisted that he was “never going to leave Israel,” but said an Israeli military invasion of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza, represented a “red line” for the United States. Netanyahu confirmed his country’s intentions to move the war into Rafah, which he has described as “ the last Hamas stronghold” in an interview with Politico on Sunday. “We’ll go there,” he said, pushing back on Biden’s criticism. “We’re not going to leave. You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is, that October 7 doesn’t happen again. Never happens again.” Meanwhile, the General Frank S. Besson, a U.S. logistics support vessel, departed from Virginia on Saturday carrying materials and personnel to build a temporary port off of Gaza to accept additional shipments of humanitarian aid, and the U.S. airdropped a fifth delivery of meals into the enclave on Sunday. 
  • Pope Francis said in an interview recorded last month and released on Saturday that Ukraine should negotiate an end to the war with Russia. “I think that the strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates,” he told Swiss broadcaster RSI. The pope’s comments—which were interpreted as a call for Ukraine’s surrender—were swiftly rebuked by Ukrainian leaders. “The strongest is the one who, in the battle between good and evil, stands on the side of good rather than attempting to put them on the same footing and call it ‘negotiations,’” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement on Sunday. “Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags.” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni clarified on Saturday that the “white flag” imagery had first been introduced by the interviewer, and that the pope desired a “diplomatic solution for a just and lasting peace.”
  • The U.S. airlifted all nonessential staff from its embassy in Haiti, the military announced on Sunday, and sent additional forces to bolster security amid worsening violence sweeping the island nation. “This airlift of personnel into and out of the embassy is consistent with our standard practice for embassy security augmentation worldwide, and no Haitians were on board the military aircraft,” the U.S. military’s Southern Command said in a statement. Gangs attacked at least three police stations in the capital city of Port-au-Prince over the weekend, and Caribbean leaders on Friday called for an emergency meeting—scheduled to take place on Monday in Jamaica—to discuss the deteriorating situation, inviting representatives from the U.S., Brazil, Canada, France, and the United Nations to attend.
  • President Biden on Saturday signed into law a $459 billion funding package that will provide appropriations for more than a dozen federal agencies—including the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Transportation, Veterans Affairs, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and NASA—narrowly averting a partial government shutdown. The Senate passed the measure by a 75-22 vote on Friday evening after debating several conservative amendment proposals. The remaining parts of the government that were not covered by the latest package face a funding deadline of March 23.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that U.S. employers added 275,000 jobs in February, up from a downwardly revised 229,000 in January—originally reported as 353,000—and above economists’ expectations. Approximately half of the new jobs were related to health care, government, or social assistance, and the unemployment rate ticked up from 3.7 percent to 3.9 percent as the labor force participation rate remained unchanged at 62.5 percent for the third consecutive month. Average hourly earnings—a key measure for hints on inflation—were up 4.3 percent annually and just 0.1 percent month-over-month.
  • The Republican National Committee on Friday officially selected North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley and Lara Trump, former President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, as its national chair and co-chair, respectively. Both Whatley and Trump were endorsed by the former president. “If our voters don’t have confidence that our elections are safe and secure, nothing else matters,” Whatley said in his acceptance speech on Friday. “Over the next eight months, the RNC will work hand in glove with President Trump’s campaign.”
  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán traveled to the U.S. on Friday to meet with former President Trump at Mar-a-Lago, where they discussed issues such as the “importance of strong and secure borders to protect the sovereignty of each nation,” according to a statement from the Trump campaign. Orbán did not meet with President Biden, who decried the meeting at a campaign stop on Friday. “You know who [Trump’s] meeting with today down in Mar-a-Lago?” Biden said. “Orbán of Hungary, who’s stated flatly that he doesn’t think democracy works, he’s looking for dictatorship.”
  • Centrist political group No Labels voted on Friday to move forward with plans to nominate a presidential ticket for the 2024 election, though no candidate has at this time been named. “We don’t have a candidate,” said No Labels National Convention Chair Mike Rawlings, a former Democratic mayor of Dallas, Texas. “And it’s possible, in the end, we won’t find a suitable candidate.” The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that No Labels is considering Republican Geoff Duncan, the former lieutenant governor of Georgia, to lead a unity ticket.
  • Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana announced on Friday that he would not seek reelection, citing “defamatory rumors” and a death threat. “This has taken a serious toll on me, and my family,” Rosendale said in a statement on Friday. “Additionally, it has caused a serious disruption to the election of the next representative for MT-02.” Rosendale had previously declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, but withdrew from that race days later when Trump endorsed businessman Tim Sheehy in the primary.
  • Oppenheimer won seven Oscars—including Best Picture, Best Director (Christopher Nolan), Best Actor (Cillian Murphy), and Best Supporting Actor (Robert Downey Jr.)—at the 2024 Academy Awards last night. Emma Stone won Best Actress for her work in Poor Things, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph won Best Supporting Actress for her work in The Holdovers. Several celebrities at the event wore red pins advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza, and hundreds of protesters reportedly blocked a main road leading to the theater, causing delays.

It’s Happening, Maybe? 

A 12-year-old boy looks at a smartphone screen displaying the TikTok logo on March 10, 2024, in Bath, England. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
A 12-year-old boy looks at a smartphone screen displaying the TikTok logo on March 10, 2024, in Bath, England. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

“The editors of this newsletter have been writing about the prospect of a TikTok ban for nearly—let us check our notes—three years. Maybe this time it will take.” 

We wrote that last March, and after another year of our TikTok ban watch, we’ve stopped trying to guess what will happen.

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced legislation—the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act—that could lead to the ban of the popular video-sharing app TikTok, sparking another political maelstrom over the future of the platform and its alleged ties to the Chinese government. 

The bill would require ByteDance, the TikTok parent company based in China, to divest its stake in TikTok or face removal from U.S. app stores. The legislation would enforce the ban by imposing severe civil penalties (e.g., $5,000 for every TikTok user in the United States) on app store owners and companies providing internet hosting services for the application. While TikTok and ByteDance are mentioned specifically in the proposal, the bill also provides authority to the president to designate additional “foreign adversary controlled” applications as falling under the stipulations of the act, requiring divesture or a ban. 

Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), co-authored the bill with his Democratic counterpart on the committee, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. “America’s foremost adversary has no business controlling a dominant media platform in the United States,” Gallagher said in a statement introducing the bill last week. 

The bill picked up supporters quickly. Introduced on March 5, the Energy and Commerce Committee considered the legislation and passed it out of committee two days later by a unanimous 50-0 vote. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise said he’d bring the bill up for a vote on the House floor this week, and the White House has been working with lawmakers on the legislation. Although President Biden’s campaign joined TikTok last month and the White House has frequently worked with TikTok influencers, Biden told reporters on Friday that he’d sign the bill into law if Congress sends it to his desk. 

How did TikTok get to the precipice of potentially losing its 170 million American users? The Trump administration attempted to ban the app via executive order in 2020 but was blocked in court, casting doubt on the government’s ability to restrict the app through existing legal authority. The Biden administration reversed the executive order, but allowed the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS)—an interagency panel that reviews business transactions and investments for potential national security risks—to continue its assessment of TikTok. Last year, CFIUS reportedly threatened to ban the app if it didn’t sever ties with ByteDance. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last month that the review is ongoing. 

The federal government has banned the use of TikTok on government devices—as have at least 36 state governments. Dozens of colleges and universities have banned the app on their devices and campus Wi-Fi as well. Montana went a step further last year, passing a law that would ban the app for everyone in the state, but a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in November blocking the ban from taking effect. Judge Donald Molloy wrote in his decision—which the state is appealing—that the Montana law oversteps state power and “likely violates the First Amendment.” Internationally, India successfully outlawed TikTok for the entire country in 2020.

Data privacy and security concerns surrounding the app, given the CCP’s access to and power over Chinese companies, have driven scrutiny of the platforms. China’s sweeping national security laws require Chinese tech companies to turn over data to the government when requested. “I have very significant security concerns about TikTok,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress in January. “It’s a combination of the ability that the Chinese government would have, if they should choose to exercise it, to control the collection of the data, to control the recommendation algorithm, and if they wanted to, to be able to control and compromise devices.” There’s no public evidence yet that the CCP has accessed U.S. user data, but there have been multiple troubling reports of TikTok employees misusing users’ personal information. One former ByteDance employee has alleged the CCP accessed TikTok to identify and monitor activists in Hong Kong during the pro-democracy protests of 2018.

Attempting to assuage data security concerns, TikTok created “Project Texas,” a $1.5 billion effort to separate U.S. user data, house it on Oracle servers located in the U.S., and create a government-approved oversight panel to monitor who has access to the data. “All protected U.S. data will be under the protection of U.S. law and under the control of the U.S.-led security team,” TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told the Energy and Commerce Committee last March. “This eliminates the concern that some of you have shared with me that TikTok user data can be subject to Chinese law.” TikTok argues its efforts to protect user data go far above other U.S. tech companies’ practices, although recent reports indicate that the company has not completely walled-off American data. 

Lawmakers’ latest effort to force a divestment of TikTok has received sharp pushback from the company. “This bill is an outright ban of TikTok, no matter how much the authors try to disguise it,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday. “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.” (China has banned American social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for years.)

Critics of a TikTok ban argue that the concerns over data security are overblown and not worth the increase in government authority over a publishing platform. “The TikTok bill recently advanced by the House would endanger the [First Amendment] and empower the federal [government] to ban social media platforms,” Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said last week, echoing arguments made by TikTok’s public policy team. Paul Matzko, a research fellow for media studies at the Cato Institute cited by Paul, argued that if the CCP wanted data on American users, it could easily buy the information from data brokers. “This bill—should it pass and should TikTok refuse to divest—would result in the largest removal of speech in U.S. history,” he added

Lawmakers have introduced multiple bills in the past few years that would either restrict or ban TikTok, but they have all stalled out. The speed and bipartisan backing of the latest effort, however, has raised more concern at the company than previous efforts, according to an internal source at ByteDance who requested anonymity to speak candidly. But there isn’t fear the legislation would lead to an immediate ban, the source told TMD, noting the company could launch legal appeals if the bill passed.

Given that concern, TikTok has stepped up its lobbying and advocacy efforts against the legislation, sending out a push notification to U.S. users warning them that the bill would ban the platform. The notification gave users an option to directly appeal to their representatives, causing congressional offices to be inundated with thousands of calls. The advocacy campaign appears to have backfired, however, angering some lawmakers and convincing others of the danger the app poses. Multiple offices reported getting calls from children and teenagers threatening suicide if the law is passed. Some lawmakers believe TikTok’s targeted grassroots campaign against the ban illustrated their concern in real-time. “The pressure campaign that TikTok put in place today where they forced a pop-up on the app … and also told a lie that we were forcing an outright ban, which this bill is not, proves the danger,” Gallagher said last week.

But on Friday, another wrinkle arose when former President Donald Trump abruptly reversed his position on banning the app. “If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business,” Trump wrote on TruthSocial on Thursday, premiering a new nickname for Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “I don’t want Facebook, who cheated in the last Election, doing better.” But preserving Facebook’s competition might not be the only reason Trump changed his tune—the former president has ties to billionaire and GOP donor Jeff Yass, whose hedge fund holds a 15 percent stake in ByteDance, approximately $40 billion based on the most recent valuation

Yass invited Trump to a retreat held earlier this month with the Club for Growth, a prominent conservative advocacy group lobbying against a TikTok ban. The former president attended the retreat and described Yass—who has donated more than $60 million to the group since 2010—as “fantastic.” What’s more, Kellyanne Conway, a former senior aide in the Trump White House, is working with the Club for Growth and meeting with lawmakers to advocate in favor of TikTok. 

Despite Trump’s opposition, the bill is expected to pass the House later this week, but its path in the Senate is less clear. “I’m really conflicted here,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a noted China hawk, told NBC News on Sunday. “Banning TikTok, maybe that’s necessary to protect American data from China, but if you can find a way to avoid that, that’d be good too.”

Worth Your Time

  • What are Gen Z workers missing out on by not going into the office? Friendship, according to Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas. As work increasingly shifts remote, Hall argues that younger professionals are missing out on key relationships that benefit both personal and professional development. “Having a close friend at work has well-established benefits for both careers and well-being,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Working people are less lonely and socially isolated than those who aren’t working. At the same time, close friendships—wherever they form—boost happiness and life satisfaction. Around the office, workplace friends are advocates, mentors and confidants—a second set of eyes and ears. A friend at work is a source of support. But to state the obvious, to make friends at work, people have to go to work and stay at work. This is why remote work is a barrier to friendship. As my research has found, friendships require both time and a mutual liking and admiration. A lack of time to socialize at work, particularly face-to-face, decreases the likelihood of making friends or even getting to know one’s co-workers. This means that both less face time and less job tenure decrease the chances that the newest employees will make friends at work.”

Presented Without Comment 

President Joe Biden, asked on Friday if he regretted describing the immigrant who allegedly murdered Laken Riley as an “illegal.”

Well, not probably, I don’t regret—technically, he’s not supposed to be here.

President Joe Biden, asked on Saturday if he regretted describing the immigrant who allegedly murdered Laken Riley as an “illegal.”

Undocumented. Undocumented person. And I shouldn’t have used “illegal,” it’s undocumented.

Also Presented Without Comment 

Associated Press: First Photo of Princess of Wales Since Her Surgery is Retracted Because Image Appeared Manipulated

Also Also Presented Without Comment 

Billboard: Madonna Apologizes After Accidentally Calling Out Fan in Wheelchair for Sitting at L.A. Concert

Toeing the Company Line

  • Alex fact-checked Biden’s State of the Union address, debunking dubious claims about billionaires’ tax rates, inflation, the pandemic-related economic crisis, and more.
  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew unpacked Biden’s partisan State of the Union address, Jonah argued that antics at the annual speech are a sign of bipartisan failure, Nick responded to our fourth-ever Dispatch editorial, and Chris cautioned (🔒) against getting too invested in the extraordinarily general election campaign.
  • On the podcasts: Steve and Sarah checked in on (🔒) their High Steaks bet on the 2024 primary elections, Jonah reassured Remnant listeners that America as we know it will not end come January 2025. On today’s episode of The Dispatch Podcast, human rights activist and former Israeli politician Natan Sharansky joins Jamie to discuss his letters to the late Alexei Navalny and the future of U.S.-Israel relations.
  • On the site over the weekend: Megan Dent explained what a British World War II novel can teach our post-truth media, Luis offered his 2024 Oscars predictions, and Bill Walsh explained why Jerusalem is considered Islam’s third holiest city.
  • On the site today: Charlotte reports on debates over who will govern Gaza after the war, and Robert VerBruggen looks into why standardized testing may be making a comeback in college admissions. 

Let Us Know

Do you support restricting TikTok in the U.S.?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.