U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that bans transactions with TikTok’s China-based parent company, ByteDance, as well as Tencent, which owns WeChat.
The order also bans both TikTok and WeChat in the United States and will take effect in 45 days.
The move comes after a week of heated back-and-forth over TikTok, which follows ongoing U.S. concern about TikTok’s ability to spy on people, share data with the Chinese government and spread misinformation.
However, these concerns are challenging to address. Over the last few weeks, TikTok took strides to distance itself from China. That included bringing on former Disney executive Kevin Mayer as CEO, seeking American investment or a partial sale to an American company — Microsoft expressed interest in purchasing some or all of TikTok — and making its algorithms open and accessible for regulators.
Despite these efforts, the Trump administration moved forward with the ban. In the case of Microsoft’s acquisition, the company expects a final decision by September 15th — just a few days before the ban comes into effect. If Microsoft acquires TikTok, the app could potentially dodge the ban.
It’s also worth noting that the ban does not affect video game companies owned by Tencent, such as Riot, which makes League of Legends and Valorant.
TikTok threatens legal challenge to order
However, the short-form video app is not leaving its fate up to Microsoft. It issued a statement about the order, which you can read in full below. In short, TikTok questions the legality of the order. The company also says it tried to work with the Trump administration and found it “paid no attention to the facts.”
“We are shocked by the recent Executive Order, which was issued without any due process. For nearly a year, we have sought to engage with the US government in good faith to provide a constructive solution to the concerns that have been expressed. What we encountered instead was that the Administration paid no attention to facts, dictated terms of an agreement without going through standard legal processes, and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses.
“We made clear our intentions to work with the appropriate officials to devise a solution to benefit our users, creators, partners, employees, and the broader community in the United States. There has been, and continues to be, no due process or adherence to the law. The text of the decision makes it plain that there has been a reliance on unnamed “reports” with no citations, fears that the app “may be” used for misinformation campaigns with no substantiation of such fears, and concerns about the collection of data that is industry standard for thousands of mobile apps around the world. We have made clear that TikTok has never shared user data with the Chinese government, nor censored content at its request. In fact, we make our moderation guidelines and algorithm source code available in our Transparency Center, which is a level of accountability no peer company has committed to. We even expressed our willingness to pursue a full sale of the US business to an American company.
“This Executive Order risks undermining global businesses’ trust in the United States’ commitment to the rule of law, which has served as a magnet for investment and spurred decades of American economic growth. And it sets a dangerous precedent for the concept of free expression and open markets. We will pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and our users are treated fairly – if not by the Administration, then by the US courts.
“We want the 100 million Americans who love our platform because it is your home for expression, entertainment, and connection to know: TikTok has never, and will never, waver in our commitment to you. We prioritize your safety, security, and the trust of our community – always. As TikTok users, creators, partners, and family, you have the right to express your opinions to your elected representatives, including the White House. You have the right to be heard.”
New competitors approach
Some apps, like Byte, aren’t expressly TikTok clones. Byte was actually made by Vine co-founder Dom Hoffmann as a sort of Vine 2.0. Other app features, like Instagram Reels, for example, are clear clones of TikTok.
well… this looks familiar 🤔😉 https://t.co/V8GyRSXkPu
— TikTok (@tiktok_us) August 6, 2020
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Facebook has been working on Instagram Reels for some time now, and it fits well with the company’s record of behaviour. Reels is to TikTok what Instagram Stories was to Snapchat.
However, with all these other apps working to pick up where TikTok might leave off, it begs the question, “Why this app and not TikTok?”
The core of the claims against TikTok consist of two things. The first is that ByteDance’s ties to the Chinese government could allow for Chinese propaganda and misinformation to permeate through the app. The second is that TikTok collects a lot of personal data. But neither of those things are exclusive to TikTok. Facebook is riddled with misinformation and far-right propaganda, and the company’s app suite collects a vast amount of data from users.
The real difference comes down to values; America or China. The Verge has an excellent piece about the differences — or lack thereof — between the two. It’s an excellent read and, if you have the time, is quite helpful when it comes to understanding the concern around TikTok.
And that difference is also key to understanding what the ban would mean for Canada. The U.S. ban is about politics, not privacy. From a privacy perspective, there’s as much reason to ban TikTok as any American social media app.
The worst fallout from the ban would likely impact Canadian creators on the platform. The Toronto Star outlines this well, noting that some creators view the impending departure of U.S. TikTokers as a good thing. Without them, Canadian creators may have more room to grow their followings. However, without U.S. TikTokers, the app could struggle to find a consistent userbase.
Update 08/07/2020 at 11:35am: Added a note regarding Tencent-owned gaming companies like Riot and Epic Games, which are not included in the ban.