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Trump is planning to ban TikTok: here’s what you need to know

The US president announced an incoming ban on the Chinese-owned video-sharing app in the US

Donald Trump has announced plans to ban TikTok. The US president told reporters on board the presidential plane Air Force One that he could sign an executive order to ban the Chinese-owned app as early as today (Saturday August 1).

“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” he told the present press. Trump detailed that it would be an authoritative ban, rather than forcing TikTok’s owners, ByteDance, to divest it. He reportedly had an off the record conversation with reporters, but agreed to move his comments about TikTok to on the record.

The reported move bolsters concerns from US security officials over the app being used by its China-based owners to mine personal data from Americans, which ByteDance – a Beijing-based tech company – has vehemently denied. 

The short-form video app has an estimated 80 million active monthly users in the United States alone. Back in October 2019, TikTok hit back at security claims, stating: “We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government; TikTok does not operate in China, nor do we have any intention of doing so in the future.” The app announced plans on July 22 to hire 10,000 people in the US over the next three years in a multitude of roles, and shelved plans to bring its international HQ to the UK – all to seemingly appease US lawmakers.

There is no information from the president as of yet as to how this ban would effectively work, a more immediate timeline, and what legal proceedings would look like. The transcript of the conversation with reporters on Air Force One however alluded to emergency economic powers or an executive order to ban TikTok. 

According to the New York Times, Microsoft is considering buying the app for US usage, though Trump seemed adamant in pursuing a more all-out ban.

India has already banned TikTok from the beginning of July, in a blanket ban of 59 smartphone apps that also included the popular messaging app WeChat. Lawmakers in Japan are currently pushing to ban the app, while politicians in Australia are considering similar measures.

It seems the Trump administration has been considering how to combat TikTok for at least some time, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the ban as “something we’re looking at” on July 7 on Fox News. The US House of Representatives voted earlier in July to ban TikTok downloads on all government-issued phones, with the Senate expected to pass the measure too, and the US army and Navy has already banned its service members from downloading TikTok to their government phones. The Department of Justice is currently considering an investigation into both TikTok and Zoom following two Republican senator requests, who voiced concern that Zoom and TikTok had allegedly disclosed private American information to the Chinese Communist Party and censored content on the CCP’s request. Further, The White House has been warning US investors away from the app already.

An analysis by The Verge explains that for TikTok to be removed from American citizens’ phones, the US government would have to force Google and Apple to sever ties with ByteDance, essentially deplatforming TikTok. Removal from the iOS and Google Play app stores would be a seismic blow. If Trump pursues an all out ban with his executive order – which, shown illustrated in recent usage, he isn’t that concerned about being totally lawful – it would likely be immediately challenged in court. It would likely be a lengthy, uncertain process, with huge reputational and financial damages for ByteDance. Apple and Google could also challenge any pressure from the government. Banning specific pieces of software, including an app like TikTok, is practically very difficult. The best route would look to be lobbying Congress to push through legislation that would target TikTok and similar apps, as CNET reports.

TikTok has exploded in popularity in recent times, boosted by the pandemic and people keen to bust the boredom of quarantine. The US has been its third largest market, just behind India and Brazil. It has proved a thorn in the Trump administration’s side – teenage TikTok users claimed responsibility for the poorly attended Trump rallies in Oklahoma, after a challenge on the app to reserve seats and impede people attending.

A TikTok spokesperson declined to directly comment on Trump’s reportedly incoming ban, but told US publications that they were “confident in the long-term success of TikTok” in the States. A statement last week from TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer asserted that TikTok was observing transparency as much as possible, and was conducting reviews of its algorithms. “We are not political, we do not accept political advertising and have no agenda - our only objective is to remain a vibrant, dynamic platform for everyone to enjoy,” Mayer said in a post. “TikTok has become the latest target, but we are not the enemy.”

Multitudes of TikTok influencers have been responding to the news – from Hype House members to creators who have been around since its fruition as Musical.ly. Many rushed to create videos bidding farewell to TikTok, and asking viewers to follow them on Instagram and YouTube. Dixie D’Amelio, who has 32 million followers, uploaded a video of herself reacting to the news, as did Addison Rae, who has 53.3 million followers.