On Friday night, President Trump abruptly announced his plan to ban TikTok in the United States. “As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One. “Soon, immediately. I mean essentially immediately.” Although he threatened to sign an order as soon as Saturday, the weekend came and went without any changes to the app.
He’s now outlined a new timetable for the social media platform that’s been skyrocketing in popularity. TikTok has until September 15 to court a U.S. buyer, or else it faces an immediate ban. Trump has expressed support for Microsoft purchasing the video-sharing app, and reportedly seeks exorbitant payment to the U.S. Treasury as a condition of the deal.
The panic stems from the national security risks of TikTok being owned by a Beijing-based company, ByteDance. Concerns abound about the company sharing data of American users with the Chinese government, although TikTok has denied that it supplied any U.S. data to Chinese officials. Although TikTok is certainly an intrusive data-collector, the threat it poses relative to other apps — or even its legitimacy as a broader national security threat — remains dubious. Government tensions have brewed over TikTok for much of the past year, with the U.S. military barring service members from using the app on government devices.
There’s potentially a more personal grievance at hand here for Trump. Legitimacy aside, there was a prominent media narrative crediting TikTok teens for inflating RSVPs and expectations ahead of his flop of a Tulsa rally. Additionally, users have previously coordinated efforts to give Trump-affiliated businesses and apps poor ratings, and in some cases, mass reporting in an effort to get them banned.
The mood among some of TikTok’s most prominent users was scatterbrained as usual: somewhere between playful, incensed, and mournful, depending where you looked. Some users memed their way through defying Trump’s ban, pledging to show up at the White House if and when he shuts it down. Some grown-ups who link every new development to the polls were forecasting some added electoral trouble for Trump. Some popular videos played on this premise — that by irking millions of newly eligible voters, he's digging a deeper hole on top of the pandemic’s surging death toll and imminent economic collapse. It’s always hard to imagine the single-issue TikTok voter, but there have been stranger surprises this year.
Claudia Conway, the outspoken daughter of counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, returned to the platform after her family effectively banned her from social media last month. The younger Conway posted a barrage of videos soon after her return, including some which boosted the theory that she was a driving reason behind Trump’s ire for the app.
The past few days have seen a broad exodus to other platforms, despite however unlikely a ban may look at this point. Much like when Vine just ceased to exist, another shortform video app rose in its ashes. While something like byte or Triller is rising in the ranks to kick off a month of purgatory, the same fate that befell Snapchat could come for TikTok — Instagram launching their own format that becomes the dominant platform. Instagram Reels, set to launch this month, could fill an immediate void for short video creators and influencers in the event of a ban. So even if Microsoft or another U.S. tech giant doesn’t subsume TikTok, the spirit of the app will survive elsewhere — and ideally, with less censorship. There’s always going to be a market for short, jittery videos.