TikTok has officially launched a lawsuit against the US government over the bill that will ban the Bytedance-owned company in the US if it does not divest its stake. TikTok has called the bill a violation of the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, and it seems like it may have a pretty good case.

In its court filings, TikTok said, “Congress has taken the unprecedented step of expressly singling out and banning TikTok” and termed the move “unconstitutional.”

The lawsuit filed in the US Circuit Court of Appeals for Washington DC, added, “For the first time in history, Congress has enacted a law that subjects a single, named speech platform to a permanent, nationwide ban, and bars every American from participating in a unique online community with more than 1 billion people worldwide.”

At the center of the lawsuit is the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act that President Joe Biden signed into law last month (even though he’s active on TikTok). The Act calls for a ban on TikTok unless Bytedance sells its stake.

In its court filings, TikTok said that “qualified divestiture” is not possible – technologically, commercially, as well as legally. Specifically, it said that a transaction is just not possible in the 270 days that the Act proposes.

TikTok Sues the US Government Over the Proposed Ban

TikTok said that on multiple occasions it has explained to the US government that a divestment is not possible. Notably, China has signaled that it is against a forced sale of TikTok.

TikTok is easily worth 10s of billions of dollars because of its fanatical user base of over 170 million Americans. However, the TikTok content recommendation algorithm, credited with much of the platform’s success, might be so valuable that ByteDance (and the Chinese government, if it steps in) may simply let the platform get banned instead of selling it to US competitors.

In its court filings, TikTok said, “There is no question: the Act will force a shutdown of TikTok by January 19, 2025, silencing the 170 million Americans who use the platform to communicate in ways that cannot be replicated elsewhere.”

TikTok Disputes It’s a National Security Threat

TikTok has disputed that it’s a national security threat as made out in the Act and pointed out that 58% of the company is owned by global institutions and only 21% by its owner Zhang Yiming who while being a Chinese national, lives in Singapore.

It stressed that 21% of ByteDance – which is similar to Yiming’s stake in the company – is owned by employees including those in the US.

It gave an analogy and said that going by the US government’s argument it could order any newspaper or website to either shut down or sell itself.

However, comparing TikTok to a US website or newspaper is not an apples-to-apples comparison. There are genuine concerns over TikTok being a security threat as, according to Chinese law, ByteDance could be forced to assist in national intelligence efforts, likely including sending US user data to the government. While ByteDance has denied it would ever do so, the assertion has failed to cut ice with many governments globally.

Concerns over TikTok sharing data with China gained further impetus after multiple former TikTok employees came forward with allegations that the social media service’s operations were closely intertwined with their Chinese parent company, ByteDance, during their tenures, casting serious doubt on the company’s assertions of autonomy.

This all sounds quite problematic and it certainly is, but critics of the ban bill argue that this isn’t the real motivation for the ban. China could already freely buy personal data of Americans farmed by our very own social media platforms if it really wanted to.

Many critics of the bill claim that the real motivation was to eliminate TikTok’s free exchange of information to stop Americans from learning from non-establishment sources. For example, Senator Mitt Romney, seemed to indicate that the overwhelming support for the bill was due to the desire to crush dissent against Israel’s brutal actions in Gaza.

Speaking with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken about “Israel’s PR,” he said, “Some wonder why there was such overwhelming support for us to shut down potentially TikTok… If you’re looking at the postings on TikTok and the number of mentions of Palestinians relative to other social media sites is overwhelming.”


This particular discussion could be a massive boon for TikTok’s prospects of winning the lawsuit as it directly indicates that the bill was passed to control and diminish unwanted speech. Because the Supreme Court almost always errs on the side of the 1st Amendment, it’s likely that TikTok would win the case if it gets to the high court.

Would TikTok Win the Lawsuit?

These are still early days in the lawsuit but Gautam Hans, an associate clinical professor of law at Cornell University and associate director of its First Amendment Clinic believes the bipartisan support for the bill makes TikTok’s job tougher.

He said, “TikTok has prevailed in its previous First Amendment challenges, but the bipartisan nature of this federal law may make judges more likely to defer to a Congressional determination that the company poses a national security risk.”

While talks on banning TikTok have been going on for almost four years, lawmakers look serious about acting against the company this time. John Moolenaar, R-Mich., the chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, said, “It (the lawsuit) is telling that TikTok would rather spend its time, money, and effort fighting in court than solving the problem by breaking up with the CCP. I’m confident that our legislation will be upheld.”

US-Based Social Media Companies Could Benefit From the Ban

The future of TikTok in the US is uncertain as the company is now contesting the forced divesture, making a ban quite likely under the Act if it doesn’t win the lawsuit. If the US indeed bans TikTok, it would give a massive boost for companies like Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms, Alphabet-owned YouTube, and Snap, as all of these companies lost out on advertising revenues to TikTok.

However, whether the US bans TikTok or forces it to sell a stake, it would only add fuel to the ongoing US-China tech war. Relations between the world’s two biggest economies have already been strained over multiple issues including the US ban on exports of high-end chips to China over possible military use.

There is an apparent “AI war” going on between the two countries and the US move to ban exports of high-end chips could stall the progress that Chinese companies are making in AI.

Both the US and China Are Protective About the Data of Their Citizens

Both the countries are worried about the data of their citizens and that was precisely the reason China ordered ride-hailing app Didi to delist from the US markets shortly after its 2021 listing.

More recently, Tesla partnered with Baidu for data mapping, apparently to get approval to offer its full self-driving (FSD) functionality in the country. While we don’t know whether the partnership was forced upon Tesla (even if it looks apparent) – it goes to show how protective China has been about even data related to self-driving cars.

On the other hand, we have TikTok which has the power to influence public opinion – and by its extension elections in the world’s oldest democracy – whose First Amendment ByteDance is invoking to challenge the proposed ban.