TikTok CEO expects to defeat US restrictions: ‘We aren’t going anywhere’

April 25, 2024 - 2:25 PM
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TikTok logo
TikTok app logo is seen in this illustration taken, August 22, 2022. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo)

WASHINGTON — TikTok’s chief executive said on Wednesday the social media company expects to win a legal challenge to block legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden that he said would ban its popular short video app used by 170 million Americans.

“Rest assured — we aren’t going anywhere,” CEO Shou Zi Chew said in a video posted moments after Biden signed the bill that gives China-based ByteDance 270 days to divest TikTok’s U.S. assets or face a ban. “The facts and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to prevail again.”

Biden’s signing sets a January 19 deadline for a sale — one day before his term is set to expire — but he could extend the deadline by three months if he determines ByteDance is making progress. Biden is seeking a second term against former President Donald Trump.

“We don’t want to see a ban,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday. “This is about PRC ownership,” she added, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

In 2020, Trump was blocked by the courts in his bid to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat, a unit of Tencent in the United States. Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, has reversed course and said on Monday that Biden was “pushing” for a ban on TikTok and would be the one responsible if a ban were imposed, urging voters to take notice.

“Make no mistake — this is a ban on TikTok,” Chew said, emphasizing that TikTok would continue to operate as the company challenges the restrictions.

Many experts question if any potential buyer has the financial resources to buy TikTok and if China and U.S. government agencies would approve a sale.

Driven by widespread worries among U.S. lawmakers that China could access Americans’ data or surveil them with the app, the bill was overwhelmingly passed late on Tuesday by the U.S. Senate. The U.S. House of Representatives approved it on Saturday.

The four-year battle over TikTok is a significant front in a war over the internet and technology between Washington and Beijing. Last week, Apple said China had ordered it to remove Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China over Chinese national security concerns.

TikTok is set to challenge the bill on First Amendment grounds and TikTok users are expected to again take legal action. A U.S. judge in Montana in November blocked a state ban on TikTok, citing free-speech grounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union said banning or requiring divestiture of TikTok would “set an alarming global precedent for excessive government control over social media platforms.”

However, the new legislation is likely to give the Biden administration a stronger legal footing to ban TikTok if ByteDance fails to divest the app, experts say.

If ByteDance failed to divest TikTok, app stores operated by Apple, Alphabet’s Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide Web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications or TikTok’s website.

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Senator Laphonza Butler, a California Democrat, urged the White House to consider the fate of 8,000 U.S. employees of TikTok, many of whom are in New York or California.

“We must acknowledge the impact on TikTok workers, and our local economies, as we determine a path forward,” Butler told Biden in a letter.

The bill would also give the White House new tools to ban or force the sale of other foreign-owned apps it deems to be security threats.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said he was concerned the bill “provides broad authority that could be abused by a future administration to violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.”

Biden’s re-election campaign plans to continue using TikTok, a campaign official said on Wednesday. Trump’s campaign has not joined TikTok.

Biden signed legislation in late 2022 that barred U.S. government employees from using TikTok on government phones.

— Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Matthew Lewis and Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Richard Chang)