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Could a TikTok ban happen? It’s complicated.

On Wednesday, TikTok users across the U.S. opening the app — perhaps to watch people practice their hot dog-vendor scream or learn about their face’s visual weight — were shown a screen all but begging them to call their congressional representative.

“Congress is planning a total ban of TikTok,” the pop-up read. “Speak up now — before your government strips 170 million Americans of their Constitutional right to free expression.”

The plea focused on the effect a ban would have on creators, specifically how it would “damage millions of businesses, destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country, and deny artists an audience.” It’s a touching sentiment and a laudable attempt at masking TikTok’s true objective of self-preservation.

This is the fourth time in as many years that American politicians have attempted to limit TikTok’s reach in the United States, and it may be the messiest yet.

In 2020, an executive order signed by former President Donald Trump that would have completely banned TikTok and WeChat from the U.S. was blocked by the courts, then revoked by President Joe Biden. The app has since been banned from all federal devices. Last year, a Montana-specific ban on the app was eventually blocked by a federal judge. Biden also demanded that China divest from the app or face a nationwide ban.

But this most recent attempt to curtail China’s access in the U.S. is an even more strange amalgamation of sloppy politics and hypocrisy.

We’ll begin with the public misrepresentation of the bill in question. Known as the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” the bill would require parent company ByteDance to sell subsidiary TikTok in six months or be removed from U.S. app stores. It is not an outright ban on the platform, despite TikTok’s insistent use of the word.

Next comes the political backpedaling. “If they pass it, I’ll sign it,” President Biden told reporters unequivocally on Fri. March 8. less than a month after joining TikTok himself in an attempt to reach young voters ahead of this year’s election. At a press briefing on Wed. March 6, when asked how Biden could support a ban while actively using the app, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre distanced the White House from the campaign for Biden’s re-election, noting that President’s TikTok account “is [the campaign’s] strategy.” As for the bill itself, Jean-Pierre said. “This is about our national security… And we would want to see this bill get done so it can get to the President’s desk.”

Former President Donald Trump is also flip-flopping on his support of TikTok. Once vehemently against it (he did attempt to ban the app, after all), Trump took to Truth Social to proclaim that he was against the bill. “If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business,” he wrote, “I don’t want Facebook, who cheated in the last Election, doing better. They are a true Enemy of the People!”

And at the constituent level, chaos reigns. As a result of TikTok’s pop-up stunt, Congressional staffer told Mashable’s Matt Binder that thousands of constituents of all ages had contacted the office to protest the “ban,” but that “the calls are OVERWHELMINGLY from children… Kids literally told our office they were calling from recess earlier today.”

Other TikTok users are burnt out on empty threats to the app’s sovereignty and doubt the new bill will have any real effect on the app at all. One hyperbolic tweet read, “every week the US government tries to ban tiktok and they always fail…someone has to remind them 24/7 that they have bigger issues than that clock app that need to be taken care of asap.”

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