Virginia Public Radio: TikTok ban sails through Congress but stumbled in Richmond

VIRGINIA PUBLIC RADIO, BRAD KUTNER

Efforts to rein in the social media company TikTok are a rare moment of bipartisanship in DC, but similar efforts stumbled during the recent legislative session.

Chesapeake Delegate Jay Leftwich used the second to last day of the 2024 legislative session to decry what he described as a terrible assault on the American family.

“How many of us would allow a stranger to walk into your house, walk up the stairs, go in your child’s bedroom and spy on them,” Leftwich said.

Leftwich was defending his failed effort to ban minors’ access to TikTok. It would have given parents the right to file suit, with a $75,000 fee, against the company if they found their child had gained access.

But the bill never got a full floor hearing and was left for dead in another committee.

Up in DC, Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger was one of the first lawmakers to suggest putting limits on TikTok, authoring a bill that banned the app on federal agency phones. And Wednesday she expanded her support for limiting access to the Chinese-owned app by joining a bipartisan majority to advance a bill that would force the company to divest from its Chinese parent company or be banned across the country.

“The goal is to ensure the safety and security of the American population,” Spanberger told Radio IQ.

That bill has the support of Senator Mark Warner.

“Its loyalty is to China, not its customers,” Warner said Thursday, backing concerns about its national security risks.

“There’s a lot of creativity on TikTok, lots of people who make money off of it, and it should continue,” he said. “But it should not be in the hands of the Chinese communist party.”

Virginia’s other Senator, Tim Kaine, said he needed more time to dig through the bill before he would express an opinion.

Herndon Delegate Irene Shin chairs the committee that first heard Leftwich’s bill. She voted against it, but she said she and other Democrats are aware of the problems with social media. But Shin said Leftwich’s bill targeted only TikTok, not Facebook or any other platform. And even democratic efforts to wrangle the digital data collection beast, as well as things like addictive feeds, were killed as well.

Whatever happens next, Shin hopes the national security concerns that sparked action in Washington don’t result in unintended consequences for her constituents.

“I think oftentimes people confuse national security threats that are valid with xenophobic and sometimes racist sentiments towards Americans in America,” Shin said.

There are currently no Virginia bills that would limit TikTok heading to Governor Glenn Younkin’s desk. The federal effort still needs to pass the Senate.

As for Spanberger, she admitted her kids use the controversial app, so she’s hoping they divest before it’s too late.

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