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TikTok CEO Defiant Against Legislation Threatening App Ban in U.S.

In the face of new legislation that could spell the end for TikTok in the United States, the company’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, remains resolute, assuring users that the social media giant is “not going anywhere.” This bold statement came in the aftermath of President Joe Biden signing a bill into law, which initiates a countdown of 270 days for ByteDance, TikTok’s China-based parent company, to sell off its U.S. operations or face a potential ban of the platform, currently enjoyed by 170 million Americans.

The CEO’s video message, released shortly after the signing, brought a defiant tone to the ongoing controversy, with Chew stating, “The facts and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to prevail again.” The signed bill puts pressure on ByteDance by establishing a sale deadline of January 19, coinciding with the last day of Biden’s current term, though the president holds the option to grant a three-month extension if he deems that progress is being made.

The edict from the White House, meanwhile, is clear. “We don’t want to see a ban,” said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre. But she also hinted at the broader issue: “This is about PRC ownership,” referring to concerns over the People’s Republic of China’s potential access to American user data through TikTok.

The unfolding situation brings to mind the unsuccessful attempts by former President Donald Trump back in 2020 when efforts to ban TikTok and WeChat, owned by Tencent, were thwarted by the courts. Trump, now campaigning for a return to the Oval Office, has paradoxically accused Biden of seeking a ban on the app, perhaps looking to leverage the issue with voters.

The specter of a ban has been driven by bipartisan concern over national security implications. These concerns quickly propelled the bill through the Senate and the House of Representatives, adjudicating a four-year struggle that signifies the broader conflict between Washington and Beijing over technological dominance. This battle saw Apple recently announce the removal of WhatsApp and Threads from its Chinese App Store, responding to Chinese government security concerns.

TikTok, for its part, plans to challenge the bill on the grounds of the First Amendment, and given past precedents, users may also take up legal arms against the measures. Indeed, a precedent was set when a U.S. judge in November halted a state-level ban on the grounds of free speech, signaling potential judicial sympathy for the platform. The American Civil Liberties Union has expressed alarm, noting that a ban or forced sale of TikTok “would set an alarming global precedent for excessive government control over social media platforms.”

The consequences of failing to comply with the new rules are dire: App stores like those operated by Apple and Google would have to cease offering TikTok, choking the app’s ability to reach new users. The complexities don’t end there, with 8,000 U.S. TikTok employees’ futures hanging in the balance. Senator Laphonza Butler of California has voiced concern over the potential economic impact a hasty decision could cause.

Moreover, the legislation grants the White House new capabilities to ban or demand sales of additional foreign-owned applications deemed security risks, raising concerns among some, like Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who worry about the broad powers that could infringe on Americans’ First Amendment rights.

Even in the political arena, TikTok’s influence is acknowledged, as Biden’s re-election campaign intends to continue its presence on the platform, contrasting Trump’s campaign, which has not turned to the app for its efforts.

In a move reflecting increasing caution, Biden had already signed a law in late 2022 that prevents U.S. government employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices, further highlighting the administration’s approach to the perceived threat posed by the app.

Time is ticking for TikTok as the countdown begins. Despite the legal confrontations and political crossfire, the final outcome is far from clear, leaving millions of American users—and the world—watching closely to see if the app can dance its way out of this legislative bind.