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They voted for the bill that could ban TikTok. They also actively use the app.

By Shania Shelton, CNN

(CNN) — Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson struck a breezy tone as he talked about the State of the Union while sitting in the kitchen where he films several of his TikTok videos.

“It’s a little risky to talk about the State of the Union from your kitchen these days, but let’s give it a shot,” the North Carolina Democrat said before discussing how the lights in the room were three times brighter than normal that night, the bet he made about how many heckles there would be among members of Congress and looking up at his wife, Marisa, give a standing ovation when Biden mentioned IVF, as they had gone through the procedure twice.

It’s that kind of casualness and relatability that has resonated with TikTok users and led to the congressman gaining a significant following of more than two million followers over the past nearly three years. Beyond alluding to the criticism Alabama Sen. Katie Britt received for her delivery of the GOP’s rebuttal to Biden’s address, Jackson often shares what he’s experienced through his first term in Congress.

Whether it’s the “fake anger” he’s noticing among voices in Congress or being “toast” during the redrawing of North Carolina’s congressional map last year, Jackson often describes current affairs and incorporates videos, like of him boxing, to paint a picture of how he plans “to go after political corruption” if he becomes attorney general.

Still, the congressman was among the 352 members who voted in favor of the legislation that could lead to a nationwide ban of the app, which he has amassed 36 million likes on. Since the passage of the bill in the House, TikTok users have flooded the comment section in his recent videos, criticizing Jackson for his recent vote and vowing to unfollow him. The number of followers Jackson has appears to have gone down in recent weeks.

Jackson is not the only House representative who has both taken advantage of the popular app and voted for the bill that could ban it. Some of these representatives actively use the app to boost their campaigns, while others use it for office communications. Democratic Reps. Colin Allred of Texas, Adam Schiff of California and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan have all used TikTok as they each campaign for the Senate this year.

Jackson took to the app hours later to explain his vote, saying, “I don’t think TikTok is going to be banned.” The video received several negative comments and has since been deleted on TikTok (it remains on X).

“TikTok may be sold to another company, but it will continue to operate,” Jackson said in the video. “The bill that just passed the House was about telling TikTok they have to sell to another company.”

He also said in a statement, “I’ve said repeatedly that ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, needs to sell their shares. The best-case scenario is that TikTok continues to operate but is no longer owned – and potentially controlled – by an adversarial government. That’s exactly what this legislation does.”

In an apology video on Saturday, Jackson stated “I did not handle this situation well from top to bottom and that is why I have been completely roasted on this app over the last 48 hours.” He went on to give “more of an explanation” about the bill and his vote in favor of it.

“When I was reading the bill, the part I agreed with was the part that tries to force a sale because I figured this would just be a better app if we didn’t have to worry about the stuff that comes with it being potentially controlled by an adversarial government,” he said.

“The part I didn’t like was the part that threatens a ban. Half the country is on this app. It has become a force for good in the lives of millions of people. So I weighed those two things and the reason I voted for it was because I genuinely believe the chance of a ban is practically zero for a lot of reasons,” Jackson continued.

The congressman’s vote in favor of the TikTok bill comes freshly after a win in the Democratic primary for attorney general of North Carolina last week; Jackson will next face off against a fellow congressman, Republican Dan Bishop, in November.

Some members who voted in favor of the bill believe the US should be able to regulate the technology.

Although state and federal lawmakers have already banned TikTok from government-owned devices, efforts continue to create new legislation that would regulate the app as US officials have warned for years that China’s intelligence laws could enable Beijing to snoop on the user information TikTok collects.

“This is a very close issue and I do not take lightly any adverse action toward a service that is used by over half of all Americans,” Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, whose office uses the app to share information, said in a news release last week. “But the United States has a right to regulate a social media company controlled by the hostile Chinese authoritarian regime that exercises broad power over American discourse and popular culture.”

While Schiff said he does not support a ban on TikTok while there are less restrictive means available, he said the legislation gives “the administration the leverage and authority to require divestiture.”

“The Chinese Communist Party’s ability to exploit private user data and to manipulate public opinion through TikTok present serious national security concerns,” Schiff, who recently advanced to the November election in the California Senate race, said in a statement. “For that reason, I believe that divestiture presents the best option to preserve access to the platform, while ameliorating these risks.”

The legislative action toward TikTok stems from national security concerns related to its Chinese parent company ByteDance. If enacted, the bill would give TikTok roughly five months to separate from ByteDance, or else app stores in the United States would be prohibited from hosting the app on their platforms.

The bill would need to pass in both the House and the Senate before it would be sent to the president to be signed into law. Though it passed in the House with bipartisan support, the legislation’s fate is less than clear in the Senate, where there is no companion bill. President Joe Biden, whose campaign has its own TikTok account, said he would sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.

The question of a ban

A few of the representatives who voted in favor of the bill have emphasized that it is not meant to be a ban of TikTok.

“The Chinese government remains the most active and persistent cyber threat to the United States,” Allred, who is challenging Sen. Ted Cruz, said in a news release on Wednesday. “This is not a ban, instead it creates a system to preserve TikTok and protect our freedoms and privacy by requiring ByteDance to fully divest in TikTok.”

Other representatives have acknowledged their staff’s use of the app. Slotkin said in a statement on X, “It’s important to recognize that I benefit from TikTok’s ability to reach” Michiganders.

“I’m a candidate, as you said, for Senate,” Slotkin, who is running to succeed Sen. Debbie Stabenow, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Thursday. “Most of us want TikTok to be available, right? You don’t think I have nieces and nephews and staff who are on TikTok who love it? Of course. I don’t want to ban it. I just don’t want the Chinese government controlling that data.”

But TikTok said they hope the Senate will realize the impact of the app and blasted House lawmakers’ fast-tracking of the bill.

“This process was secret and the bill was jammed through for one reason: it’s a ban. We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement.

Annie Wu Henry, a digital strategist who charged Sen. John Fetterman’s presence on the app during his 2022 campaign, said TikTok creates an accessible and equitable space for individuals, politicians, organizations and activists to get their voice heard and have a platform. She said the online space is increasingly more important and is an additional tool that can be used to organize people, raise money, communicate information and for brand and name awareness.

“It’d be a loss of a place that people can organize, a place that people can use their voice, a place that people can also provide their public opinion,” Henry said.

Constituent communications

Along with the House members who have hopped on the app for campaigning purposes, several members use the app through their office to discuss the latest news and what they are working on in Congress.

Of those members who use it to share what their offices are up to, Democratic Reps. Sean Casten of Illinois, Greg Landsman of Ohio, Wiley Nickel of North Carolina, Pascrell and Melanie Stansbury of New Mexico voted in favor of the bill that could potentially ban TikTok in the US.

Landsman said he uses most social media platforms to “communicate to constituents about the services that they may be eligible for, how we can be helpful, legislation we’re working on. Just being as transparent and accountable as we possibly can.”

The Democratic congressman said if TikTok is banned, he will continue to use the social media platforms that aren’t banned, but said, “I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen here.”

“It’s really a sell TikTok, not ban TikTok bill. So this gives the administration and those involved, that are much closer to this, the leverage that they need to get this thing solved,” he said.

Henry said what concerns her is down the line, “it kind of opens the flood gate for there to be banning of other apps because what if something else pops up? Is it going to be banned because people have concerns around it, or issues, or people maybe just don’t like it?”

CNN has reached out to the offices of Casten, Nickel and Stansbury for comment.

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