Photo Illustration by Mateusz Slodkowski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Surprise! The Trump administration doesn’t seem serious about banning TikTok after all.
Remember when the Trump administration thought TikTok was a grave threat to America?
Well, fair enough. The Trump administration also seems to have forgotten that it had planned on banning the Chinese video app, which is wildly popular with American kids.
That ban was supposed to go into effect yesterday, based on an August executive order that has already been amended once. In the original order, Donald Trump argued that there was “credible evidence” that ByteDance, TikTok’s China-based owner, “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.”
ByteDance’s only option, supposedly, was to sell TikTok to an American owner. But a convoluted, complicated deal to sell some of TikTok to Walmart and Oracle has yet to be completed.
And as TikTok’s tens of millions of US users have noticed, TikTok is still working in the US, even though it didn’t meet yesterday’s deadline.
Last night, Trump’s Commerce Department said it was holding off on its would-be ban. Today, TikTok told a federal court that the Trump administration has given it and ByteDance another 15 days to work out its Walmart/Oracle deal.
The extension comes days after TikTok complained that the Trump administration hadn’t said a word about TikTok’s proposed plan. TikTok’s new deadline to figure something out is November 27.
But feel free to be skeptical about that deadline, too. Trump’s approach to TikTok, as well as WeChat, a Chinese-based messaging app he has also tried to ban, has been wildly erratic, even by Trump standards. At various times, Trump has announced that he would ban the app; or that he would force TikTok to sell itself to a US company; or that any deal would force TikTok to give a portion of the sales proceeds to the US; or that TikTok was going to contribute $5 billion to a fund “so we can educate people as to the real history of our country.”
It’s much more likely, in fact, that Trump hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about TikTok and was instead hoping that his stance against a Chinese-owned tech company might help him rile up voters and/or donations for this month’s election, which he lost.
But even that seemed like a half-hearted attempt: Aside from a couple weeks in August and September, Trump rarely mentioned TikTok, WeChat, his proposed bans, or the so-far-successful court challenges to those bans.
It probably would be good for US lawmakers to take TikTok seriously: There’s never been a Chinese-made consumer app with widespread appeal in the US, and there’s a legitimate debate about whether or not the app poses real security risks, and whether it is censoring content on its massive platform.
Ben Thompson, the American-born tech commentator who lives in Taiwan, for instance, argues that the US should ban TikTok because it’s a potentially powerful tool for Chinese propaganda and censorship. Tens of millions of Americans, meanwhile like using the app to create and watch memes and likely have no idea who owns the app.
But there’s a good chance this issue will keep getting kicked down the road, right into the lap of the Biden administration.