Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has come out against a ban on TikTok, breaking from his GOP colleagues on a measure that would prohibit the use of the often-criticized social media app.
Lawmakers cited national security concerns raised by TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, after reports emerged that the company has gathered user data and spied on some journalists.
In an opinion piece published Wednesday in the Courier Journal of Louisville, Kentucky, Paul argued that banning TikTok would mimic censorship by the Chinese government. He cast the question of whether to ban the app as a free speech issue and said he would defend it even against members of his party. Paul has maintained that his opposition is not due to the ties of one of his top donor's to the company.
"I hope saner minds will reflect on which is more dangerous: videos of teenagers dancing or the precedent of the U.S. government banning speech," Paul wrote. "For me, it’s an easy answer, I will defend the Bill of Rights against all comers, even, if need be, from members of my own party."
He added: "If you don’t like TikTok or Facebook or YouTube, don’t use them. But don’t think any interpretation of the Constitution gives you the right to ban them."
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a vocal critic of TikTok, introduced legislation Wednesday to ban it in the U.S., which he tried to pass by unanimous consent. Paul objected.
A bipartisan group of senators announced legislation this month to give President Joe Biden authority to ban the app. The opposition of Paul and some Democrats makes passage unlikely.
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One of Paul's top donors, billionaire Jeff Yass, is the largest U.S. investor in TikTok, according to Bloomberg. Yass has given millions to Paul's re-election campaign through affiliated super PAC donations. He also contributed directly to Paul's re-election campaign.
Paul has said his decisions about TikTok were "not based on any kind of donations." His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Last week, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee for about five hours. Senators grilled Chew about issues of data privacy and censorship. Afterward, several key senators said Chew had not calmed their fears about the app's potential misuse by the Chinese government.
Since then, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has said the chamber "will be moving forward" with legislation to regulate it.
The question of whether to legislate TikTok has raised fears that it would harm electability for both parties if they ban the app, a favorite among the younger generation.
"Congressional Republicans have come up with a national strategy to permanently lose elections for a generation: Ban a social media app called TikTok that 94 million, primarily young Americans, use," Paul wrote.