While concerns that the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok is collecting Texans’ private data continue to grow, the Texas House State Affairs Committee heard testimony on a measure that would prevent the app from operating in the state.
State Rep. Jared Patterson’s (R–Frisco) House Bill 2206 calls for Texas to ban social media platforms from both foreign individuals and entities from China, Iran, North Korea, or Russia. The measure bans social media platforms owned by foreign governments and platforms where these governments own a majority of stock.
Patterson’s office highlighted TikTok, owned by Chinese media company ByteDance, as a recent example of a social media app posing a potential security risk to Texas. ByteDance employs Chinese Communist Party members and has a subsidiary partially owned by the country’s communist party, leading some to raise concerns that the app may be using citizens’ data against them.
“This bill seeks to restrict social media operation from dangerous foreign actors who may use the platforms to spy on Texans and Texas-based companies,” wrote Patterson’s office. “By banning social media operations from bad foreign actors, Texas would remove TikTok from the state and prevent similar social media companies from trying to capture data from Texans and negatively exploit the next generation.”
Last year, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray said TikTok harvests users’ data and cautioned that the Chinese Communist Party could use the information for espionage. Wray also raised concerns that ByteDance can alter the platform’s algorithm and “manipulate content.”
Last year, Abbott directed all state agencies to ban TikTok from state-issued devices and agency internet networks. This order led to several public universities prohibiting students from accessing TikTok while connected to campus internet services.
During the committee hearing, several speakers accused Patterson’s measure of unfairly impacting Asian Americans. Hugh Li, president of the Austin Chinese-American Network, condemned HB 2206 for what he believes is a double standard.
“Today’s Texas GOP is fighting tooth and nail against a woke culture on First Amendment grounds, that freedom of speech and the press should reign supreme,” said Li. “I’m sure they should. But, when it comes to our rights to express ourselves on a platform of our choosing, ‘No sir, no more First Amendments. This platform must be totally banned, silenced, and squashed.’”
Speaking in support of his legislation, Patterson highlighted TikTok’s potentially negative impacts on Texans and their families.
“Members, within the last few years, we’ve all begun to understand further the damage that social media can have on individuals when exposed for long periods of time,” said Patterson. “It’s not only the priority of the Texas House to protect the privacy of Texans, but to guarantee that their personal information isn’t purposefully being used to influence our society and peers negatively.”
HB 2206 was left pending in committee.
The 88th Legislative Session ends May 29.