It Looks Like TikTok’s Pressure Campaign on Congress Backfired

Estimated read time 3 min read
  • TikTok urged its users to call Congress and protest a possible national ban of the app.
  • And call they did — but it angered some lawmakers who were already wary of the platform.
  • The campaign seems to have backfired.

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On Thursday, TikTok launched a pressure campaign to leverage its power to sway Congress — but the move seems to have backfired.

In fact, it may have proven one of lawmakers’ big concerns about the app.

TikTok made its move this week, sending some users messages on their home screens urging them to “speak up now” against a bill that could ban the app.

That proposal has gained momentum in Congress and support from President Joe Biden.

Lawmakers are worried about TikTok’s Chinese ownership, the privacy of Americans’ data, and the influence the app holds over teens and young adults.

The bill would force owner Bytedance to sell TikTok’s operations to a non-Chinese company or shutter.

In response, TikTok warned the legislation would “damage millions of businesses” and “destroy the livelihoods of countless content creators.” The home screen message included a link at the bottom for users to call their local reps.

And call they did, Semafor reports.

Congressional offices got a barrage of calls demanding lawmakers vote against the bill. Some offices got as many as 50 calls, according to Semafor.

Some users filmed themselves enthusiastically joining the app’s call to arms.

“If you ban TikTok, I will kill myself,” one caller said, according to Politico’s Olivia Beavers.

Axios reported that some lawmakers’ offices turned off their phones during the flood of calls.

While calls to action by beleaguered apps aren’t new, this one appears to have struck a particular nerve — and in some ways, affirms long-held fears about TikTok.

Politicians have accused it of being a propaganda tool — and the latest campaign may have shown exactly how influential TikTok is.

Beavers reported — citing an anonymous Republican source — that some members of Congress who were previously undecided are now leaning toward supporting the law against TikTok.

A TikTok spokesperson responded to the report with a statement to Business Insider: “If true, it is an interesting political calculation for a Member of Congress to hear from thousands of constituents imploring them to oppose a bill, get frustrated, and then vote yes to spite them,” a TikTok spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement.

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), who co-authored the bill with Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.), went on X and called TikTok’s move a “massive propaganda campaign.”

And an anonymous GOP aide told Axios that TikTok’s “crazy” strategy was “backfiring as members are livid about all the calls and misinformation.”

After the calls started pouring in, a House panel voted to advance the bill.

All 50 lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — voted in favor, a rare show of bipartisanship in a divided Congress.