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TikTok US ban
Via TikTok @xobrooklynne, @millennialloteria, and @onlyjayus

A brief explainer on what’s going on with TikTok in the US

The app was set to be banned yesterday, but has been given an extension following a promising-looking deal between ByteDance, Oracle, and Walmart

If you’ve been following the news about the United States’ proposed TikTok ban, it’s likely you’re confused AF. The ban was supposed to come into effect yesterday (September 20), but has instead been given an extension following a promising-looking deal between ByteDance (the company that owns TikTok), Oracle, and Walmart.

The short-form video app has an estimated 80 million active monthly users in the US alone, but, in recent months, lawmakers have raised concerns about its users’ privacy and security. Hacktivist collective Anonymous echoed these worries in July when it accused TikTok of being “malware operated by the Chinese government running a massive spying operation”.

After Donald Trump first proposed the ban, TikTok announced plans to hire 10,000 people in the US over the next three years, seemingly to appease the country’s lawmakers. It doesn’t appear to have worked, though, meaning TikTok has had to scramble to find US investors who can keep the app running.

Because there’s been a lot of back and forth about its future, here’s a brief explainer about WTF has been going on, and what’s happening next.

WHY DOES TRUMP WANT TO BAN TIKTOK?

In July, Trump announced that he was going to ban TikTok in the US. While the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, claimed this was due to privacy and security concerns, the president himself suggested it was a retaliation against China for its alleged role in the coronavirus pandemic.

“Look what happened with China with this virus,” he said at the time, “what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.”

However, there may be another reason why Trump is determined to ban TikTok: its users. In recent months, teens on the app have galvanised against him, sabotaging his campaign rallies, leaving negative reviews on his re-election app, and attempting to block him from social media.

Trump responded by running anti-TikTok ads on his official Facebook and Instagram pages, which warned users that “TikTok is spying on you”.

HOW WOULD THE BAN WORK?

On August 1, Trump told reporters that the ban was imminent, and by August 7, he’d issued an executive order officially banning the app in the US. The order – which was also issued against Chinese messaging app WeChat – banned any US transactions with ByteDance, meaning companies like Apple and Google would no longer be able to host the app for downloads from September 15.

Just over two weeks later, on August 24, TikTok filed a lawsuit against the US government, claiming that the ban is unconstitutional. “The executive order seeks to ban TikTok purportedly because of the speculative possibility that the application could be manipulated by the Chinese government,” the app said. “But, as the US government is well aware, Plaintiffs have taken extraordinary measures to protect the privacy and security of TikTok’s US user data.”

According to Bloomberg, TikTok wouldn’t just go dark overnight. Unlike in India, where the ban meant users were immediately blocked from using the app, the US doesn’t afford the president the authority to close down a social media site, meaning TikTok would still stay on people’s phones after the September 15 deadline passed.

@xobrooklynne

dont let other people put fear into youuuu!! Stay calm !! ##tiktokban

♬ original sound - Brooklynne !

However, on Friday (September 18) – three days after the supposed ban was meant to come into force – the Trump administration announced that it would block both TikTok and WeChat from US app stores from Sunday (September 20). The restrictions would also ban the transferring of funds or processing of payments through WeChat within the US, as well as preventing any company from offering internet hosting, content delivery networks, internet transit, or peering services to WeChat, or using the app’s code in other software or services in the country. These additional restrictions were supposed to start as of Sunday for WeChat, while the same prohibitions were set to go into effect for TikTok on November 12.

From Sunday, users were no longer going to have access to improved updated apps, upgraded apps, or maintenance of TikTok, but if the app was already downloaded, it would remain present and functional until November 12.

The administration threatened fines of up to $1 million and up to 20 years in prison for violations of the order.

HAS TIKTOK BEEN SAVED?

Despite this new order, TikTok and WeChat both avoided their bans. A judge in California blocked the WeChat ban, asserting that while the government has identified “significant” threats to national security, there is “scant little evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all US users addresses those concerns”.

TikTok has been temporarily saved after Trump gave his “blessing” to a partnership between the platform and US firms Oracle – a software maker founded by a big Trump donator (sigh) – and Walmart. The deal still needs to be signed off by the Chinese government.

As reported by BBC News, the deal would see the establishment of a new company, called TikTok Global, which would be headquartered in the US and have a majority of American directors. The app’s data would be stored by Oracle, which would have the right to “inspect its source code”. Despite Trump claiming that TikTok Global would be “totally controlled by Oracle and Walmart”, the organisations said they were investing to acquire 20 per cent of the new company. Of that, Oracle will take 12.5 per cent, while Walmart will take 7.5 per cent. 

ByteDance will retain a share of the US operation, which falls short of Trump’s demand to completely sell TikTok’s US arm to an American company. BBC News suggests that the president has approved the deal because it will create 25,000 US jobs and see the company pay more than $5 billion (£3.8 billion) in tax.

Trump claimed that this $5 billion was actually a “contribution towards education”, but did not specify who was making the investment, or what it would be used for. In a statement, ByteDance said it was unaware of the contribution it was supposedly making.

Yesterday, TikTok tweeted: “#WeAreTikTok and we are here to stay!” In an accompanying video, the Interim Head of TikTok said: “We are here for you, and we are here for the long run. We’re thrilled to share that we are working with a US tech partner to ensure that TikTok can continue to provide a home to each and every one of you – just as it does today, with no change to our users here in the US or around the world.”

In “light of recent positive developments”, the US Commerce Department has delayed yesterday’s deadline until September 27. But, TBH, given the confusion surrounding the ban, and seeming flexibility on its enforcement, who knows what will happen then.

In the meantime, look back at what we’ll miss if the app is banned in the US here.