President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order declaring the popular video app TikTok a national emergency and saying that it would be effectively banned from the country in 45 days if US operations aren’t sold to an American company.
Under the order, in 45 days, the US would bar anyone “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” from carrying out transactions with ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese-owned parent company. A connected order also bans in the same timeframe transactions with WeChat, a Chinese social networking app, and its parent company Tencent, which has investments in American video game developer Epic Games, which makes Fortnite.
In signing the TikTok order, Trump argued the app “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users” that could be used by the Chinese government against American interests.
TikTok, the order said, “reportedly censors” content the Chinese government finds “sensitive,” like protests and treatment of the Uyghurs. The order added that TikTok “may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, such as when TikTok videos spread debunked conspiracy theories about the origins of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.”
Trump has himself spread misinformation on social media regarding the coronavirus and has been repeatedly reprimanded by major social platforms.
It’s unclear how the US government could prevent Americans from using the app if the 45-day deadline isn’t met. The order cited the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act as giving Trump power for the order.
In a blog post on Sunday, Microsoft confirmed that it hopes to wrap up talks to buy TikTok before Sept. 15.
Trump said Monday that Microsoft — or any other large American company — could buy TikTok as long as the federal government received a “lot of money” from the sale.
“I said a very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “Because we’re making it possible for this deal to happen. Right now they don’t have any rights unless we give it to them. So if we’re going to give them the rights, then it has to come into, it has to come into this country.”
Trump’s comments come just two days after he said that he would ban TikTok in the United States, citing national security concerns around ByteDance.
TikTok did not immediately return a request for comment about the order.
A ban on TikTok would be unprecedented. On Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that a ban on TikTok would set “a really bad long-term precedent” BuzzFeed News exclusively reported on Thursday. “I just think it’s a really bad long-term precedent, and that it needs to be handled with the utmost care and gravity whatever the solution is,” Zuckerberg said. “I am really worried…it could very well have long-term consequences in other countries around the world.”
TikTok is the first Chinese app to have caught on in any significant way outside its home country. Over the last few years, the app, which lets people create and share dance videos and fun viral clips, has become a hit, particularly with teens and young millennials. More than 100 million people in the United States use TikTok, the company said.
But TikTok’s Chinese connections have drawn scrutiny from around the world. Last year, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States opened a national security review into ByteDance. In July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Americans should only download TikTok if “you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” in an interview on Fox News.
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