Back in November, The Wall Street Journal reported that the United States had begun a national security review of TikTok. A month earlier, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had sent a letter to the Treasury Department calling for the review, claiming there was “growing evidence” that TikTok had censored content that was unsympathetic toward the Chinese government.
At a press briefing on Monday, Trump reversed his position, saying he’d now allow an American company to buy TikTok if the video app can find a U.S. buyer by September 15. On August 6, Trump issued an executive order that will ban TikTok from operating in the U.S. in 45 days, unless its parent company sells it off.
President Donald Trump is making good on his controversial promise to ban TikTok in the U.S., the Department of Commerce announced today. The move comes months after his administration first teased the idea of outlawing the enormously popular video-sharing app as part of a crackdown on Chinese-owned and -operated technology due to national security concerns.
Trump imposed that deadline for the “national security concerns posed by TikTok to be resolved,” according to the Commerce statement. Trump ’s impending ban “threatens to deprive the American people and small businesses across the U.S. of a significant platform for both a voice and livelihoods,” TikTok spokesman Josh Gartner said in a statement.
In July, the Committee on Foreign Investment, which U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin leads, ordered the Beijing-based ByteDance to divest TikTok. While ByteDance was once in talks to sell TikTok to Microsoft, it’s now working with Oracle, the American tech company, on a potential deal and could announce one soon to quell Trump ’s concerns.
“China has a very different legal framework and perspective on the rule of law,” Andrea Little Lumbago, chief social scientist at Virtue, an encryption and privacy company, told Popular Mechanics last year. Some speculate that part of Trump ’s distaste for TikTok may stem from a covert campaign among some of the app’s young users back in June, when they reportedly purchased a large amount of tickets to the president’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma without any intention of attending the event.
Shortly after the Trump administration caught wind of the scheme in the wake of poor attendance numbers in Tulsa, it began running anti- TikTok ads on Facebook. President Trump arrives at a campaign rally at the BOK Center, June 20, 2021 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
He and other officials have cited national security concerns for doing this, publicly expressing worry that the Chinese-owned company will share user data with the Chinese government. But what if there’s another reason why Trump wants to turn off TikTok, something driven not by high-minded policy but by something as simple as hurt feelings.
A theory explaining all this has quietly and persistently circulated among Takeovers since the ban was first discussed a few weeks ago: What if this has nothing to do with China, nothing to do with national security? The event was supposed to mark a return to the campaign assemblies that the president covets, a comeback show of force with nearly 20,000 people in attendance after months of COVID-19 lockdown.
Theoretically, it would give the Trump campaign false hopes for a large crowd leading up to the event and make them look foolish when it was sparsely attended. Televised broadcasts showed Trump at a podium framed by large swaths of empty blue seats.
The online campaign against him had worked, though Lapp and other Takeovers are fully aware that their efforts aren’t the only reason that attendance was low. Now, here’s where things get interesting: About two weeks later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the first Trump official to talk publicly about a possible TikTok ban.
Previously, different branches of the armed forces had banned it from government-issued phones, and a couple Republican senators had been vocal about their concerns over TikTok, including Missouri’s Josh Hawley and Florida’s Marco Rubio. But it would’ve been impossible for him not to know about it after Tulsa with the rally’s disappointing turnout linked to TikTok by outlets that Trump obsessives over: CNN, The New York Times NYT, Civic.
And, thus, in a matter of weeks, TikTok went from the object of ire for a few conservative senators eager for a bit of spotlight to being identified by the White House as a large national security threat that necessitated quick action. “If TikTok goes down, it was fun while it lasted, and we did get to stick it to Donald Trump,” says Sawyer McMuffin, a rising junior at the University of South Carolina.
“As far as TikTok is concerned, we're banning them from the United States,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he returned from Florida late Friday. The threat comes at a moment of extremely frayed U.S. China relations, as the president has engaged in a months-long trade war with the country and has accused its leaders of allowing the coronavirus to spread into a pandemic.
U.S. officials have raised concerns about the Chinese government tapping into personal data via Americans' cellphones using such smartphone applications. Late Wednesday night, President Trump issued executive orders that will effectively ban two major Chinese apps from the U.S. market.
Yet on the surface neither appear to touch on traditional issues of national security, such as access to classified information on weapons or intelligence systems. TikTok is a social networking app for sharing short user-produced video clips, popular particularly among teenagers, with an estimated 100 million users in the U.S. and many more around the world.
Acting through IE EPA rather than CIUS allows the White House to target WeChat in addition to TikTok, and to require not only divestment but to block any future transactions with Americans. The restrictions in the executive orders are set to take effect in just 45 days, meaning there is a very tight time frame for government officials, consumers, and companies to adjust.
If this ultimately quashes a deal and leads TikTok to entirely pull out of the U.S. market, the Trump administration may face political ramifications from 100 million disappointed users of the app in the U.S. The U.S. and China have already been battling over Huawei’s global expansion, with the State Department seeking to convince other countries around the world to exclude the Chinese tech giant from their 5G infrastructure systems.
Foreign investors are used to thinking about political risks when operating in developing countries with weak legal institutions and rule of law. But the TikTok and WeChat bans suggest that, in an era of heightened economic competition, political risk should be a core concern for any global company attempting to operate across the U.S.-China divide.
Meanwhile, videos from news organizations reporting on the incident will be allowed, while hashtags used by the rioters are being redirected to reduce discoverability. President Donald Trump said on Friday night that he would ban the popular video sharing app TikTok.
“As far as TikTok is concerned we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump said aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington after a fundraising trip to Florida. A spokesperson for TikTok said in a statement that the app is a job creator committed to the privacy of its 100 million users in the United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union tweeted that Trump's plan was “a danger to free expression.” A source familiar with the matter confirmed to NBC News that Microsoft is in talks to acquire TikTok.
TikTok is also in talks with several other companies for a possible sale, but Microsoft is the farthest along and most likely at this stage, the source said. The White House has ramped up its concerns about the popular video-sharing app in recent weeks over its ownership by ByteDance, a Chinese company.