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Mark Pincus: Biden Is Even Riskier Than Trump

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Rep. Mike Gallagher calls his bill “surgery to remove the cancer at the heart of TikTok.” (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Trump’s TikTok Flip-Flop. A Weed Debate. Another Presidential Contender.

Plus: The curious case of the missing princess.

Should a company under the control of the Chinese Communist Party be allowed to own the primary source of news for young Americans? The House of Representatives is expected to answer that question with a resounding “no” later today, when it votes on legislation that would force the Chinese tech company ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a ban on the app in the United States. 

The politics on this issue ought to be straightforward and bipartisan, but like everything in Washington these days, it’s not quite so simple. Let me explain. 

When, in 2020, the Trump administration issued an executive order banning TikTok, it faced legal challenge and caused many to wonder if outrage at the move would lead to a surge in youth turnout that November. The measure was quickly ditched when Biden came into office. 

Fast-forward to 2024. Now, Biden is in favor of forcing ByteDance to sell—he has said if the bill passes, he will sign it into law. And Trump? Trump is passionately and suddenly opposed. “If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business. I don’t want Facebook, who cheated in the last Election, doing better. They are a true Enemy of the People!,” said Trump in a post on Truth Social last week. (That isn’t right: the bill gives ByteDance 165 days to sell TikTok before banning it from app stores.)

In this, Trump is part of a strange coalition that includes libertarian right-wingers like Senator Rand Paul and Rep. Thomas Massie, Squad members like Ilhan Omar and AOC, Tucker Carlson, the Cato Institute, and the ACLU. 

What gives? 

To discuss the upside-down politics of this debate—and its substance—I called up Rep. Mike Gallagher, the Wisconsin Republican Chair of the House Select Committee on China and the force behind the bill. Gallagher has a broad coalition on his side: he introduced the bill with Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat, and the legislation made it out of committee with a 50–0 vote. In other words, House Republicans are poised to do something increasingly rare: vote contrary to Trump.

Why, I asked him, had Trump reversed course?

“Trump started the whole forced sale idea, so I don’t know what to make of this statement, especially since the bill aims for a sale, not a shutdown,” he said. “Trump rightly saw the threat posed by CCP control of TikTok when he was president, and he rightly tried to take action to fix it. And he was wrongly criticized by the media.”

Gallagher refused to speculate, insisting that “my sole interest is in getting this bill passed. What’s at stake here is foreign adversary control of our news, our data, our election integrity, and the epistemological sanity of our kids.”

But some smell a rat, noting that Trump’s new, soft-on-TikTok stance came just after he sat down with Republican megadonor Jeff Yass and the Yass-backed Club for Growth and alleging that Trump’s China policy is for sale to the highest bidder. Yass has a $21 billion stake in ByteDance. The position makes up the majority of his estimated $28 billion net worth. It’s worth noting that Yass was also a major backer of Vivek Ramaswamy’s presidential bid, who was also once anti-TikTok but changed his tune after Yass started writing him checks. 

Does Gallagher think Yass explains Trump’s about-face? “I don’t know. I don’t know what conversations he’s had. I suspect it is what it looks like, which is that there is no love lost between Trump and Facebook. He feels like Facebook is responsible for his loss in 2020. So I do believe that is the dominant factor here. Whether it’s related to Yass’s advocacy against the bill, I have no evidence to suggest that and I have no idea what his relationship with the president is like.

“It’s hard for me to fully develop a hypothesis that explains the change,” added Gallagher.

With the fate of his bill front of mind, Gallagher downplayed the gap between his own position and the former president’s. “He’s saying we shouldn’t get rid of TikTok, and thereby force everybody onto Facebook. I agree, I think that would be a bad outcome, which is why the bill allows for a forced divestiture.” 

Gallagher described his bill as “surgery to remove the cancer at the heart of TikTok,” namely “CCP control of an opaque algorithm that can be used for propaganda purposes.” 

When I asked Gallagher why there was so much bipartisan momentum behind the bill he had a simple answer: October 7.

“That’s when I felt the momentum shift back in our direction,” he explained. “I can’t tell you how many Democratic colleagues I had coming up to me and saying they had seen the antisemitism on the platform, they had seen the whole Osama bin Laden “Letter to America” thing, and asking ‘Hey, where are we on this? We’ve got to do something.’ ” 

Back in November, Gallagher wrote an essay for The Free Press on the way in which TikTok was boosting pro-Hamas propaganda and suppressing pro-Israel posts. In December, analysis from the National Contagion Research Institute found that TikTok’s algorithm boosts content that is sympathetic with Beijing’s geopolitical objectives. 

Ever since Gallagher and his colleagues unveiled the legislation, TikTok has been on a no-holds-barred lobbying push, even prompting all its U.S.-based users to call their representative and oppose the bill. 

“Look at what happened last week with this pop-up notification that was a total lie,” says Gallagher, referring to a message TikTok users received inviting them to “speak up” about the bill. “We just got a preview of how the platform can be weaponized. While the data concerns are very real, the primary concern has always been propaganda. We know that Xi’s goal is to dominate discourse power and wage ideological warfare against the West.”

If anything, this push seems to have stiffened lawmakers’ resolve to take action. “TikTok’s tactics prove the point that we cannot allow this platform, a dominant news platform for Americans under 30, to remain controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” said Gallagher. “The risk is just too great.” 

For a different point of view on regulating TikTok, here is Reason’s Robby Soave arguing “Banning TikTok Is a Power the Federal Government Doesn’t Deserve.”

Illustration by The Free Press

Was Cannabis Legalization a Mistake? 

It’s been a little over a decade since cannabis was first legalized recreationally in the United States—in Colorado and Washington State in 2012, and as of today in 24 states and the District of Columbia—and Americans have never been more pro-weed. In a Gallup poll from last November, a record high (no pun intended) of 70 percent of U.S. adults came out in support of the federal legalization of marijuana, up from 50 percent in 2013 and a miniscule 12 percent in 1969, when Gallup first asked the question. More Americans support legal weed than people under the age of 45 believe in democracy.

But is legal cannabis really such a no-brainer? A recent study found that marijuana use—whether through smoking, edibles, or vapes—is associated with a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. In December, a California woman was convicted for involuntary manslaughter after fatally stabbing her boyfriend more than a hundred times because of (according to her lawyers) “cannabis-induced psychosis.” 

As more states consider decriminalization—Florida, Indiana, and Wisconsin could introduce cannabis legislation in 2024—we ask, has it really worked? Or should it be reconsidered with, well, more sober eyes? Today in The Free Press, we present the strongest cases for and against cannabis legalization.

First up, former attorney general William P. Barr and Hudson Institute president John P. Walters make the case against legalization.

Reason magazine editor Katherine Mangu-Ward responds in defense of legalization.

Do you like hearing both sides of the argument? Why not do so in person, at the next Free Press debate? Join us at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, Texas, where Bari Weiss will host as Ann Coulter, Sohrab Ahmari, Nick Gillespie, and Cenk Uygur debate the question: Should America close its borders?

Buy your tickets today. 

Ten Stories We’re Reading

  1. The full transcript of Biden’s interview with special counsel includes repeated mental lapses. (Axios)

  2. The forecaster Peter Turchin thinks the U.S. is “in a much more perilous state than Russia.” (FT

  3. An audit of Boeing’s 737 Max production found dozens of issues. (NYT

  4. Boeing whistleblower John Barnett was found dead days after testifying against the company. (BBC)

  5. Shaun King has converted to Islam. Is it a grift? (UnHerd

  6. After the invasion of Ukraine, Britain banned luxury car sales to Russia. Then exports to Azerbaijan shot up. (Sky News)

  7. A court has upheld a New England town’s ban on the sale of tobacco products to anyone born in the twenty-first century. Puritans gonna puritan. (AP)

  8. Ultra-processed food isn’t just making you fat, but sad and stupid too. (WSJ)

  9. Sitting South Dakota governor (and possible Trump running mate) Kristi Noem is doing sponsored content for cosmetic dentistry. (X)

  10. Florida has raised the minimum age for stripping from 18 to 21. (Reason)

Also on our radar. . . 

→ A right royal mystery: As you’ve probably heard, it’s been a while since Kate, the Princess of Wales, has been seen in public. Almost two months after she underwent “abdominal surgery,” according to Kensington Palace, one of the most photographed women in the world has been totally out of the public eye. And some are now starting to wonder if something is up. Is Kate okay? Is there more to the story than a routine medical procedure? On Sunday, amid all this chatter, a photo of the princess with her three children was posted to William and Kate’s social media accounts. But when photo agencies withdrew the image, saying it was doctored, a move meant to quell speculation sent it into overdrive. Forget the Streisand Effect: in an attempt to get out of the tabloids, Kate Facetuned herself onto the front page. 

An army of online sleuths combed through thousands of pictures of Kate, asking: Does Kate’s face look the same as it did on a Vogue cover because the image was ripped from the magazine shoot, or because she has the same face? Is the fact her kids are wearing the same clothes they were photographed in late last year evidence of foul play—or do they sometimes wear the same sweater more than once? 

Things were so serious that the visual investigators at Bellingcat had to take a break from investigating Russian war crimes in Ukraine to weigh in on the matter. Meanwhile, the worrywarts over at The Atlantic declared the speculation around the image as evidence of our new “choose-your-own-reality information dystopia.” Except rampant speculation about the private lives of princes and princesses has been around a lot longer than the internet. Plus, there is an actual mystery here, beyond suspicious stitching on a child’s sweater: What is up with Kate?  

Meanwhile, for some genuinely crazy online theorizing, here’s Candace Owens wondering if the first lady of France was born a man. 

→ Hamas’s phony casualty numbers: The chart below shows civilian casualty numbers in Gaza according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health. The line is completely straight, suggesting that in the bloody chaos of the Israel-Hamas war, Palestinians have been dying at an almost perfectly steady rate. 

This graph is one of the pieces of evidence that has led Wharton School statistics professor Abraham Wyner to conclude that, when it comes to the casualty figures reported by the Gaza Ministry of Health, “The numbers are not real. That much is obvious to anyone who understands how naturally occurring numbers work.” 

Read his full deep dive for Tablet: “How the Gaza Ministry of Health Fakes Casualty Numbers.” 

→ Geoff Who?: No Labels, the group of moderate Democrats and Republicans who have spent months mulling whether to put together a presidential ticket capable of taking down the two-party system, has finally made a decision. Yes, they will be nominating a presidential candidate. And after months teasing various A-listers, the name now doing the rounds is. . . Geoff Duncan. Yep, me neither. He’s the former one-term lieutenant governor of Georgia—and the source of much relief at Biden campaign headquarters.

In other third-party news, The New York Times reports that NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers and former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura are at the top of RFK Jr.’s running-mate wishlist, and that “both have welcomed the overtures, two people familiar with the discussions said.” 

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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