What happened to TikTok?

The last few months have been a rapid spiral for TikTok and its associated, WeChat. The two Chinese social media apps have recently been caught up in a trade war between the US and China. The situation with these apps has been fluctuating. In the most recent bit, a judge temporarily blocked an order from the Trump administration just hours before it would have gone into effect and removed TikTok from US app stores.

There have been dozens of court updates and different takes on the matter, so it might be a bit difficult to keep up with what’s been happening. Well, this article will help you fix that. Without further ado, here’s a closer look at where things currently stand.

This whole issue started back in August. On the 6th of that month,  Donald Trump published executive orders targeting the viral video app TikTok and WeChat. As the trade war between China and the US intensified, these orders came as no surprise. At the time, the orders pushed to block the two apps from processing transactions for US citizens and from being downloaded in US app stores after 45 days, or on 20 September, due to security concerns. That same month on the 14th, the Trump administration gave a separate executive order that TikTok would face a complete ban if it did not sell to a US company by 14 November.

The Trump administration and its Lawyers say it is in the interest of national security to ban TikTok due to links between ByteDance, the app’s parent company, and the Chinese government. In one government brief, ByteDance was dubbed a “mouthpiece” for the Chinese Communist party and said it was “committed to promoting the CCP’s agenda and messaging”. TikTok has vehemently denied these accusations. TikTok says that user data from the US is not processed in China and that the company does not give the Chinese government access to US users’ personal information.

In that same order, similar concerns for a WeChat ban were also pointed out by Trump. He went on to say that the app “allows the Chinese Communist party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information”. It was also stated that there was a possibility for WeChat to be used for disinformation campaigns. Just like TikTok, WeChat outrightly denied these accusations and claimed the ban was racist in nature. In one filing, WeChat executives said that the accusations and ban “singles out people of Chinese and Chinese American ancestry and subjects them and people who communicate with them to disparate treatment based on race, ethnicity, nationality, national origin, and alienage”.

In several interviews, when asked about the possible ban, Chinese Americans told the Guardian that WeChat had been a lifeline connecting them to family and friends in China. The same can be said for TikTok, not just for family members in Asia but for friends and fans across the globe.

Can we still use TikTok?

Well, the orders from the Trump administration that would have removed TikTok from app stores in the US were blocked by a judge on Sunday, 27 September. The judge in question, Carl Nichols, in the United States district court for the District of Columbia, granted an injunction against the order. After a hearing on Sunday night, this happened, citing the argument from ByteDance that without an injunction, it would suffer “irreparable harm”, even if the ban were eventually lifted.

In one of their official statements, TikTok said: “We’re pleased that the court agreed with our legal arguments and issued an injunction preventing the implementation of the TikTok app ban.” afterward, TikTok promised to maintain their stand on their proposal. They said that they would “maintain our ongoing dialogue with the government to turn our proposal, which the President gave his preliminary approval to last weekend, into an agreement.” Trump’s administration hasn’t indicated as to whether it will appeal this injunction.

What is this ‘proposal’?

During the ban’s original orders, Trump gave the Chinese social media app some leeway in that he said they could evade the ban if they sold TikToks US operations to a US company. It was first thought that Microsoft was seeking to purchase the app, but its bid was denied. Eventually, the US government gave preliminary approval to a deal that would sell US operations to US companies Walmart and Oracle. This means that ByteDance would hand overall profit and management of TikTok’sand WeChat’s more than 100m users in the US. 

Is TikTok done yet?

The initial ban was blocked, but it’s still very possible for the Trump administration to appeal the injunction. Aside from this, there’s still the 14 November deadline looming over ByteDance to finalize a deal. The deal with Oracle and Walmart hit a bump when the Chinese Government asked  ByteDance to get a special license before they can sell TikTok.

It’s unclear if TikTok will hear from the Trump administration amidst the US election. And although the deadline has long been passed, we’re yet to hear any news about the ban as TikTok still runs on US servers.