Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve a bipartisan bill that would force TikTok’s owner ByteDance to sell the app to an American company or be banned. The bill moves to the Senate next. Massachusetts Congressman Jake Auchincloss is a co-sponsor of this bipartisan legislation. He joined Morning Edition co-host Jeremy Siegel to talk about the app’s future.

Jeremy Siegel: So you and some Republican colleagues are in agreement here. Why ban TikTok?

Jake Auchincloss: Well, first, it's not a ban, it's a forced sale. And the reason that we need to force the sale of TikTok to an American company is that we need social media corporations to be accountable to U.S. law. And the reason we need social media corporations to be accountable to U.S. law — and that is Meta and YouTube and Twitter and TikTok — is because these corporations over the last 20 years have become trillion-dollar entities that are attention-fracking American youth, that are corroding our political discourse, that are platforming disinformation.

And they need to be subject to regulations the same way that linear media, traditional media have been for decades, all in consonance with the First Amendment, but putting guardrails in place, particularly to protect the mental health of our children, which has deteriorated over the last 15 years.

Siegel: We will be talking more about the mental health of children and how this connects here. But I want to talk about the First Amendment, because you mentioned that there are opponents of this measure, including Florida Democrat Maxwell Frost, the youngest member of Congress, who says he's voting no and claims this is a First Amendment issue.

Maxwell Frost [pre-recorded]: TikTok is a place where people express ideas. I have many small businesses in my district and content creators in my district, and I think it's going to drastically impact them, too.

Siegel: What do you say to content creators, American content creators, who say TikTok is their livelihood, and this could destroy their careers, potentially?

Auchincloss: Over the last decade of my political career, I have vigorously defended the First Amendment, including sometimes some very unpopular speech. There is a distinction between freedom of speech and freedom of reach. Any individual American has the absolute right to express their political opinion in whatever way they want. There's a distinction, though, between having a right to post something and having a right to have that post reach 100 million people by virtue of the Chinese Communist Party's influence over the algorithm. Algorithms do not have First Amendment rights, and certainly algorithms subject to Chinese Communist Party dictates do not have First Amendment rights.

Siegel: Do you yourself use TikTok?

Auchincloss: I do not.

Siegel: What about your children?

Auchincloss: Well, my children are 3, 2 and 1. But I can tell you right now, my wife and I are not going to let them use TikTok. And this really leads into the broader conversation I've been having throughout my district. I'm the youngest parent in the Democratic caucus, and I've had many conversations with parents, as well as with high schoolers and middle schoolers throughout the Massachusetts 4th, and what I hear over and over again is qualitative support for what the evidence put forward by social scientists has been so compelling, which is these social media corporations — and again, it's not just TikTok, it's Twitter, it's Facebook, it's Instagram, it's Twitch — they're making kids miserable. And we see that in the mental health statistics over the last 15 years, whether it's body image of young women or senses of isolation from young men.

These social media corporations are treating our children like products. If you're not paying for something, then you're not a customer. You're a product and you're being sold. And they are selling the attention spans of our youth to advertisers. They need to be held accountable for that. We can't do that if they don't answer to the United States Congress, though.

Siegel: You, Congressman, are separately proposing a measure that deals with these mental health issues with children online — a measure that aims to make the internet safer for children by expanding rules for verifying the age of users and also cracking down on data collection of kids. What exactly would this proposal do?

Auchincloss: That's right. And it's actually a perfect example of why we need TikTok to be sold to a U.S. company. This regulation I'm putting forward wouldn't apply to TikTok because TikTok is not an American company. It would apply to Meta, and Twitter and the others. What this does is, it corrects a mistake that was made in the 1990s when the internet was being born. In the 1990s, policymakers decided that the age of adulthood for internet activity would be 13 years old. At the age of 13, an individual could transact with corporations, could share their personally identifiable information, could consent to adult-level decisions, and in the real world, we would never have conceded to a 13-year-old.

It is well past time to update that and to require these corporations to, in a privacy protective way, verify the age of their users and then treat youth as we expect all other corporations in the real world to treat youth, which is as individuals who do not have full powers of consent and whose parents do need to be involved in the decisions that they're making.

Siegel: Congressman, you mentioned that you have three children, all of them, the age of 3 or younger. This is not in the scope of your proposal, but considering your kids being on the internet someday, do you think that kids should not be on social media at all in the first place? Or is there a role of social media that can be healthy in the lives of kids and young adults?

Auchincloss: I think there's a role for social media that can be healthy. I'm not one of those sort of ‘sky is falling’ cranks who, you know, says that everything that I didn't use when I was a kid is going to rot your brain for the next generation. Nobody wants to hear their politicians talk like that. But that doesn't mean that we can't hold to account some of the biggest companies in the world for acting like responsible stakeholders in an information ecosystem that has degraded drastically over the last 20 years.

We can ask them to not platform defamation and intimate privacy violations and cyberstalking. We could ask them to treat youth as a special class of citizen, as we ask other corporations to do, while still recognizing that the internet can be a place of discovery and it can be identity enhancing for people who need to find their tribe online. There's nothing wrong with those things. But just like we put guardrails around previous forms of media, whether the printing press or broadcast TV or radio, there's got to be some guardrails around social media.