TikTok says ‘we aren’t going anywhere’ amid rumours it will be sold

Congress TikTok (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Congress TikTok (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TikTok has said “we aren’t going anywhere” amid rumours that its US operations could be sold.

This week, the US passed a new law that required TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to either sell its operations in the country or face a ban.

TikTok immediately said that it was not going anywhere and reiterated its opposition to the ban. And reports quickly emerged that suggested the parent company was looking to sell its US operations to a company based in the country.

The Information reported that it had been exploring plans to sell the business – though without the algorithm that recommends videos and is seen as a central part of its success.

But ByteDance said that it has no plans to sell TikTok, in a statement from its official account posted on Toutiao, a media platform owned by the China-based firm.

Earlier, the company had indicated that it believed that the ban itself would be struckdown.

“Rest assured - we aren’t going anywhere,” CEO Shou Zi Chew said in a video posted moments after Biden signed the bill that gives China-based ByteDance 270 days to divest TikTok‘s US assets or face a ban. “The facts and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to prevail again.”

Biden’s signing sets a 19 January deadline for a sale - one day before his term is set to expire - but he could extend the deadline by three months if he determines ByteDance is making progress. Biden is seeking a second term against former President Donald Trump.

“We don’t want to see a ban,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday. “This is about PRC ownership,” she added, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

In 2020, Trump was blocked by the courts in his bid to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat, a unit of Tencent, in the United States. Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, has reversed course and said on Monday that Biden was “pushing” for a ban on TikTok and would be the one responsible if a ban were imposed, urging voters to take notice.

“Make no mistake - this is a ban on TikTok,” Chew said, emphasizing that TikTok would continue to operate as the company challenges the restrictions.

Many experts question if any potential buyer has the financial resources to buy TikTok and if China and U.S. government agencies would approve a sale.

Driven by widespread worries among U.S. lawmakers that China could access Americans’ data or surveil them with the app, the bill was overwhelmingly passed late on Tuesday by the U.S. Senate. The U.S. House of Representatives approved it on Saturday.

The four-year battle over TikTok is a significant front in a war over the internet and technology between Washington and Beijing. Last week, Apple said China had ordered it to remove Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China over Chinese national security concerns.

TikTok is set to challenge the bill on First Amendment grounds and TikTok users are expected to again take legal action. A U.S. judge in Montana in November blocked a state ban on TikTok, citing free-speech grounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union said banning or requiring divestiture of TikTok would “set an alarming global precedent for excessive government control over social media platforms.”

However, the new legislation is likely to give the Biden administration a stronger legal footing to ban TikTok if ByteDance fails to divest the app, experts say.

If ByteDance failed to divest TikTok, app stores operated by Apple, Alphabet’s Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide Web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications or TikTok‘s website.

Senator Laphonza Butler, a California Democrat, urged the White House to consider the fate of 8,000 U.S. employees of TikTok, many of whom are in New York or California.

“We must acknowledge the impact on TikTok workers, and our local economies, as we determine a path forward,” Butler told Biden in a letter.

The bill would also give the White House new tools to ban or force the sale of other foreign-owned apps it deems to be security threats.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said he was concerned the bill “provides broad authority that could be abused by a future administration to violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.”

Biden’s re-election campaign plans to continue using TikTok, a campaign official said on Wednesday. Trump’s campaign has not joined TikTok.

Biden signed legislation in late 2022 that barred U.S. government employees from using TikTok on government phones.

Additional reporting by agencies