TikTok told users to contact their representatives. Lawmakers say what happened next shows why an ownership restructure is necessary.

Some TikTok users saw their phones flash Thursday morning with an urgent-sounding push notification: “Take action: Speak up against a TikTok shutdown.” The alert linked to a page prompting users to enter their zip code, then provided them with a direct link to call their congressional representative. Lawmakers say their offices were inundated with calls as a result.

A screenshot shows the call to action shown to some U.S. users by TikTok on Friday. A screenshot shows the call to action shown to some U.S. users by TikTok on Friday.

And the calls to action have not ended. A new page pushed out to users by TikTok Friday warns, “Your freedom to create is at risk,” and once again provides a link to call. 

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat who serves as the ranking member of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, said Friday this demonstrates exactly why he takes issue with the app, whose parent company is privately owned Chinese technology firm ByteDance. Critics say that as a Chinese company, ByteDance poses security risks.

“Most of these push notifications went to minor children, and these minor children were flooding our offices with phone calls,” Krishnamoorthi told CBS News. “Basically they pick up the phone, call the office and say, ‘What is a congressman? What is Congress?’ They had no idea what was going on.”

The congressman said these concerns and the app’s access to young children’s data are driving factors creating the bipartisan support of the “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” a bill he co-sponsored. The bill calls for ByteDance to divest from TikTok or the app will face restrictions.

“This is exactly the reason why so many of our colleagues voted for the bill. They don’t want a foreign adversary controlling social media apps using geolocation to target minor children to call members of Congress or interfere in our elections. This is exactly the reason why this particular legislation is necessary now,” Krishnamoorthi said.

While the bill was met with bipartisan support when it unanimously passed through the House Energy and Commerce Committee, it has been criticized by former President Donald Trump. He shared on his Truth Social platform Thursday night, “If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business,” calling the social media company “a true Enemy of the People!”

Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the select committee on competition, told CBS News on Friday that passing the bill wouldn’t be a death sentence for TikTok. He said its ownership by ByteDance is  a “very concrete national security threat.” 

“Every national security official in the Biden administration has warned about the national security threat posed by TikTok under its current ownership structure. That’s what we’re trying to get at. Not a ban, but a separation. Think of it as a surgery designed to remove the tumor from the patient and allow the patient to survive,” Gallagher said. 

More from CBS News

Aubrey Gelpieryn

Aubrey Gelpieryn is a producer with CBS News Streaming.

Leave a Comment