Trump Calls Tiktok’s Future Into Question


Trump seeks to ban the popular social media application over security concerns. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Alexandra Lange, Staff Writer

The clock is ticking on TikTok’s future. If the app is not sold to a U.S. buyer by mid-November, it will be effectively banned in the U.S. and over 175 million Americans will lose access to one of their new favorite pastimes.

On Aug. 6, President Trump signed an executive order prohibiting Americans from doing business with ByteDance, the China-based company that owns TikTok, if the app is not sold to a U.S. buyer in the next 90 days.

“There is credible evidence that leads me to believe that ByteDance … might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States,” Trump wrote in the order. He referenced national security concerns due to ByteDance’s alleged connections to the Chinese government and the possibility the company could share users’ data with it.

After originally setting a mid-September  date for the ban, Trump extended the deadline for an American purchase of TikTok to Nov. 12 in an updated executive order released Aug. 14.

Trump’s order has sparked outrage from millions of dance-crazed teens and other loyal users of the app. “TikTok is loved by over 100 million Americans because it is a home for entertainment, self-expression and connection,” said Vanessa Pappas, general manager of TikTok. “TikTok will be here for many years to come.”

While publicly TikTok has continued to remain optimistic, internally, the company is under enormous pressure to secure a deal and fulfill Trump’s demands. The challenges proved insurmountable for Kevin Mayer, the former Disney executive who resigned just months after being named TikTok’s CEO.

Not anticipating the extent to which the app would become involved in tension between China and the U.S., Mayer said in a letter to employees, “In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on … what it means for the global role I signed up for.” However, he added that he expects the company to reach a resolution on their potential deal soon.

Amid Mayers’ resignation, Microsoft has remained in talks with TikTok to acquire the U.S. operations of the app. Walmart has partnered with Microsoft on the potential bid but  faces competition from Oracle, who has also reportedly submitted a bid in what could be as large as a $50 billion deal.

However, regardless of who wins out, the potential deal faces new roadblocks from the Chinese government, who recently updated its restrictions on technological exports. This means that TikTok may need approval from the Chinese government to sell its algorithm, whose main component is the app’s iconic “For You Page” (FYP). Although the app could still be sold separately from the algorithm, is TikTok really TikTok without the FYP?

Aside from potential roadblocks from the Chinese government, the TikTok deal is also subject to President Trump’s approval. Given his history of indecisiveness, it is unclear whether or not Trump will approve of the buyer and the conditions of the sale. On the contrary, it is also possible that he will back down completely on his ultimatum, given the proximity of the new deadline and the upcoming election.

Especially given the context of the presidential election, the TikTok ban has become highly politicized. Possible political motivations behind Trump’s pledge to ban TikTok stem not only from his anti-China campaign, but also, from his potential attempts to silence the young liberals that make up the majority of TikTok’s users.

Many have speculated that Trump’s issues with TikTok go beyond data security and the Chinese government. This theory is based on the fact that the first mention of a TikTok ban from the Trump administration came just weeks after a June 20 re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma in which thousands of TikTokers reserved tickets under fake names with no plans to actually show up at the rally. This prank resulted in embarrassment for the Trump campaign as the arena they bragged about overflowing turned out to be sparsely filled.

Regardless of Trump’s motivations, a ban on TikTok would significantly impact its most popular creators. A recent study conducted by Forbes shows that over 80% of popular creators said a Tiktok ban would have a significant impact on their income, engagement with their fanbase and their ability to be discovered on other platforms.

Besides popular creators’ frenzy over the potential TikTok ban, other users also panicked over the possibility of their favorite app being taken away. TikTok’s young audience has been particularly unhappy with the looming ban. A TruePublic survey showed 51% of Gen Z and Millennials were upset about the ban, with just 21% supporting it. 83% of the survey respondents were not concerned about data security on the app, which is particularly interesting given that this issue is a major motivation for Trump’s ban.

With the largely negative reaction to a potential TikTok ban, it seems unlikely that the app will actually be banned come November. Along with possible implications on voter support in the upcoming election, on the logistics side, political scientists have stated that a TikTok ban is more complicated than it seems. The government does not have the power to remove an app from an individual’s phone unless either the app owner or the phone manufacturer is on board. This means that while the app may not be available for new downloads from the app store, users who already have the app will still have access to it.

One alternative to this would be a firewall preventing communication between TikTok and U.S. users; however, this would be an unprecedented legal move by the government. Even if this did happen, there are ways to work around a firewall, such as VPNs.

Whether it’s the hours wasted scrolling through our endless FYPs, dances like the “Renegade” becoming second nature or the catalog of lyrics forever stuck in our heads, TikTok has already left an immense impact on Gen Z. Even if its clock runs out, TikTok will forever hold a special place in the hearts of millions.