Update: This story was originally published on July 16 at 3:46 p.m. ET. It has since been published with statements from TikTok.
It would be unwise to take any of President Trump’s statements at face value for a number of reasons. But it would also be negligent to deny their power by not taking them seriously. He is the president, after all, and he’s executed way more harmful and outrageous bans than the recent TikTok ban he’s been contemplating.
On Wednesday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters that the White House is still thinking about banning TikTok in America and that a decision will be made soon. He told reporters that there isn’t “any self-imposed deadline for action,” but that he thinks “we are looking at weeks, not months."
Talk of a TikTok ban was originally sparked earlier this month when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was considering restricting the video-based social network, which is headquartered in China. Soon after, Trump confirmed that a TikTok ban was being discussed as “one of many” ways to retaliate against China over coronavirus: “Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.”
The ban in question would include not just TikTok, but all Chinese social media apps. And while a ban of this kind would be a first in the US, it’s not without its precedents. For two years, Trump has been campaigning to not just ban the products made by China’s Huawei (a telecommunications equipment company), but to upend every part of its business, in what looks like a trade war masquerading as a national security concern.
Beyond these statements, little else has been said regarding the potential TikTok ban. But whatever the decision – to ban, not to ban, to impose restrictions or not – Meadows expects it to be made soon. Whatever it may be, it will take a lot to convince Apple and Google to forfeit one of their most popular apps.
A spokesperson for TikTok told Refinery29 in a statement: “Protecting the privacy of our users’ data is a critical priority for TikTok. User data is stored in the US and Singapore, with minimal access across regions, and our American Chief Information Security Officer has decades of US law enforcement and security experience. TikTok's parent is a privately owned company backed by some the best-known US investors, which hold four of its five board seats. TikTok is enjoyed by hundreds of millions of people around the world, but the app is not even available in China. As we have said repeatedly, we have never shared TikTok user data with the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked. Period."
In any case, many of the US-based competitors seem to be gladly taking advantage of the hostility against TikTok to promote their own short-form video platforms: including Instagram’s Reels (coming August), YouTube’s Shorts and the creators of Vine’s Byte.