Congressman Apologizes After Voting for TikTok Ban, Would Like the Yelling to Stop

Congressman Jeff Jackson’s latest TikTok video starts simply: “I apologize.” Last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill that could ultimately ban TikTok from the US. For many, it turned Jackson into enemy number one. The North Carolina Democrat spent the last year amassing 2.3 million followers on TikTok, leveraging the app to turn himself from a no-name first-term congressman to a downright internet celebrity. But Jackson joined 352 other House members in support of the so-called TikTok “ban,” sparking outrage, cries of hypocrisy, and even conspiracy theories. Now, Jackson deleted a video celebrating the bill and is desperately trying to salvage his online reputation.

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“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,” Jackson said on TikTok Sunday. “And I get it. If I were in your shoes, I would probably feel the same way. I would see someone who used this app to build a following and appears to have voted against it, and I would be upset.”

The influencer apology is a time-honored internet tradition, and like so many before him, Jackson’s video follows the classic “sorry, not sorry” format. He stops short of saying his vote itself was a mistake, apologizing instead, essentially, for the fact that people misunderstood the situation.

“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. The part I didn’t like is 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,” Jackson said. “So I weighed those two things, and the reason I voted for it is because I genuinely believe the chance of a ban is practically zero for a lot of reasons; financial, political, geopolitical. I just don’t think there’s any real chance of a ban. I still believe that, but maybe I got that balance wrong.”

Jackson posted a video celebrating the bill on the day it passed the House, presenting the argument against the app and suggesting a ban is unlikely. The video backfired, and after widespread criticism, Jackson pulled it off of TikTok. Users posted countless viral videos lambasting the congressman, some suggesting he’s on Meta’s payroll—which Jackson categorically denies. Jackson isn’t the only TikTok-using member of Congress to vote against the app, but as the app’s biggest influencer politician, criticism against him was the loudest. After the TikTok bill passed, Jackson lost hundreds of thousands of followers.

The bill, which sailed through the House just a week after its introduction, doesn’t call for a ban outright. Instead, it would force TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell the app, though the app would be banned if that sale didn’t go through in time. The bill faces an uncertain path in the Senate, and while President Biden promised to sign it if it comes across his desk, even if it became a law, TikTok is certain to challenge the legislation in court. If the bill navigated all of those hurdles, the app would find many eager to buy it. All of that makes a ban unlikely. However, a ban is still a very real threat.

The real problem is the argument behind the war on TikTok. Starting with former President Trump, American politicians have been banging the drum against the app for almost five years now, warning that the Chinese government could use the app to harvest user data or manipulate TikTok’s algorithm to influence American voters.

However, the US government has never produced a shred of evidence to demonstrate that the Chinese government has actually used or influenced TikTok in any inappropriate way. TikTok maintains that it operates independently and has never shared user data with the Chinese government. The concerns are alarming and the hypotheticals are real possibilities, but so far, it appears they are only hypothetical.

The fact that Jackson couldn’t say anything stronger than TikTok might be “potentially controlled” by China seems to acknowledge this.

In Congress, there’s widespread support not just for forcing ByteDance to sell the app but also for banning the app outright. The government’s intelligence agencies have briefed Congress about the app in closed-door hearings, but the nature of the evidence Congress has seen is unclear.

Some, like Jackson, said these classified hearings demonstrated the need for action. “I have information about this app that isn’t public,” Jackson said in his video. “I’ve been a part of some briefings about this app that were genuinely alarming.”

However, others who voted against the ban, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, suggest that they didn’t see evidence in these hearings that demonstrated that TikTok poses any unique threats.

For example, there’s well-established evidence that Russia harnessed Facebook and X/Twitter to spread misinformation and sew conflict during the 2016 presidential election. And all of the major social media apps, including Facebook, Instagram, X, YouTube, and Snapchat, have partnered with Chinese advertising technology companies, meaning those apps have sent American user data overseas, potentially exposing that sensitive information to the Chinese government. It’s also worth noting that Meta, Facebook’s parent company, hired a conservative lobbying firm to malign TikTok and convince Congress the app is a threat to American children.

All of that leaves TikTok’s detractors like Representative Jackson in a difficult position, defending their attacks on the app to an angry public but unable to present their evidence against TikTok—if that evidence exists in the first place.

“My thinking was I could reconcile those two things by making a video that said ‘Hey here’s the situation.’ And that was a total disaster. I really overestimated my ability to do that in a really hot moment when millions of people were laser-focused on this,” Jackson said. “I screwed this up.”

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Thomas Germain