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U.S. Rep. Colin Allred voted for TikTok ban despite continuing to use the app

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, attends the first U.S. Senate debate in Austin on Jan. 28, 2024.
Maria Crane
The Texas Tribune
U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, attends the first U.S. Senate debate in Austin on Jan. 28, 2024.

WASHINGTON — On Super Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Colin Allred posted his voting day “‘fit check” on TikTok.

His brown boots were from the brand Thursday. His navy slacks were from Bonobos. And his shirt? “Who knows?” he laughed with his wife, as he mimicked a popular trend on the app where users share their outfits of the day.

“Put on your coolest fits and head to your nearest polling place!” his caption said, encouraging Texans to vote for him in Texas’ Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Eight days later and after winning the primary outright, Allred voted for legislation that could ban the app in the name of national security. The bill, called the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, would prohibit use of the app in the U.S. if TikTok’s Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance doesn’t sell its stake and relinquish control of its algorithm within six months of the bill’s enactment — a rapid turn around for such a costly and complicated transaction.

Allred posted three times on TikTok the day of his vote — which was noticed by his followers.

“Brooooooooooo, we voted for you. But you Voted against us,” a user named Savannah commented on one of Allred’s post the day of the vote.

“TikTok is the only reason I heard of you before the primaries. Why would you vote to ban it? That is so disappointing,” wrote another user named “Stardust and Serendipity.”

The Dallas Democrat was not an outlier for his vote which passed in the House. Nearly every Texan in Congress, Republican or Democrat, voted for the ban with the exception of Reps. Greg Casar of Austin, Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston and Joaquin Castro of San Antonio — who are all Democrats. Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, who has the delegation’s largest TikTok following, voted present. But among those who supported the ban, only Allred and Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, have TikTok accounts — and only Allred actively uses the app.

Allred, who used the app as recently as Saturday, is by far the most prolific poster in the Texas delegation. His posts have popped up every few days since he launched his account while advertising his Senate campaign last October. He’s used the account to criticize U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who he’ll face off against in November. He’s accrued nearly 5,000 followers and over 45,000 likes.

“Our national security is paramount and we must work together to ensure apps like TikTok are free from the harmful and malicious influence of the Chinese Communist Party,”’ Allred, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement after his vote, stressing that he considers the bill a tool to pressure an ownership change, rather than a ban. “Apps like TikTok are so important to creators and businesses in Texas and across the country, and that is why I urge Republicans and Democrats to continue to work together to preserve this app.”

Allred declined to answer questions about its own use of the app.

“Why do you have a Tiktok, if it is such a threat to your data, sir?,” another TikTok user commented on one of Allred’s posts.

Escobar, who voted for the bill as well, has only posted three times in 2023. She’s occasionally featured in Allred’s videos. She did not respond to request for comment.

The TikTok legislation has not yet been taken up by the Senate, but members of the upper chamber are expected to rework the bill. Neither Cruz nor Sen. John Cornyn have public TikTok accounts.

Cornyn has signaled support for the House’s version of the bill. Cruz has been less clear about whether he would support the legislation.

President Joe Biden has said he would sign TikTok legislation, despite the White House’s use of the app. In an interview with ABC, Vice President Kamala Harris was asked about the campaign’s TikTok usage and she emphasized that they take issue with the app’s owner but have no intention to ban TIkTok because they understand its “utility and the enjoyment that it gives a lot of folks.” Harris said the campaign will reassess if it will remain on the app should TikTok be banned.

One Republican who opposes the TikTok legislation is former U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores of Los Indios – who has 42,000 followers and is running this November to unseat Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen.

Flores said that if she was still in Congress, she would have voted against the bill. Her TikTok features a post specifically calling out Gonzalez for voting for the legislation.

She said it was “absolutely” hypocritical of members who frequently post on the app to vote for the bill.

She noted that it’s been a powerful tool in connecting with voters as she campaigns for reelection.“A lot of young people as well have reached out to me and saying, ‘Hey, thank you, thanks for being on this platform,” she said in an interview. “They felt that they only saw, you know, people on the left, and that it was refreshing to see somebody with conservative views. Views that they shared on this platform."

Jackson Lee, who voted against the bill, also used the app prominently as she campaigned last year to be the next Houston mayor — a race she lost before jumping back into her House reelection campaign.

Casar also voted against the bill and posts regularly, with 10 videos this past March ranging from news interviews to lip-syncing “Twin where have you been” with his State of the Union guest Rick Levy, the President of state labor federation Texas AFL-CIO. He has just over 3,000 followers and 20,000 likes.

"I'm not a prolific TikTok user,” Casar said in an interview. “But we do use TikTok and it is a good way for us to inform especially younger people"

Crockett has the biggest audience on TikTok among the Texans, however, she stopped using the app in September.

Crockett said she didn’t think “it was a yes or a no” in the same way she would decisively vote to protect abortion rights. She said she believes there are valid national security concerns but that social media regulation should be broadened beyond just TikTok.

Crockett was a frequent TikTok user during her time in the Texas State House, but stopped posting on the app herself in April of 2022 when she said she started experiencing technical issues. She said she would still be using the app if not for this personal issue.

“We know the problems, we get a burner phone and keep it moving,” Crockett said, noting the national security concerns. She said she knows of at least two House members who use burner phones to access the app, but she did not name them.