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US pushes TikTok towards exit

US pushes TikTok towards exit

Mike Johnson, Speaker of the House of Representatives, responds to questions from the American press, April 20.
Drew Angerer/AFP

On Tuesday evening, the US Senate voted in favor of selling the social network within a year, under penalty of being banned from the country.

This is a harsh blow that has just been dealt to TikTok. The US Senate voted on Tuesday, April 23, in favor of selling the social network in the United States. The path is now clear for President Joe Biden, who must sign the text and publish the law on Wednesday. Chinese group ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, will have nearly a year to sell the social network to American players. If this ultimatum is not respected, TikTok will be banned from app stores, thus banned in a country with 170 million users, including nearly two-thirds of American teens.

A victory for all TikTok opponents who have accused it for several years of compromising national security by allowing Beijing access to American users' data. What the social network has always strongly denied. These doubts prompted the Biden administration more than a year ago to ban the TikTok application from government agencies. Meanwhile, the social network also suffered the wrath of the political class and public opinion because it had made a portion of American youth “addicted.” This led to TikTok's CEO, Shou Zi Chew, being interviewed twice by the US Congress.

This clear vote by the Senate came just three days after it got the green light from the House of Representatives by a vote of 360 to 58. The anti-TikTok bill was, in fact, part of a large military aid plan from the Biden administration for Israel and Ukraine. and Taiwan, with a total of $95 billion. This is a timing that can be explained by the urgency of the situation in Israel, as is the case in Ukraine, which precipitated the study of the text. The idea to include this anti-TikTok bill in the foreign policy package came from Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, who saw it as a way to rally more conservative votes for the plan.

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TikTok surprised

The first version of this script was unanimously approved in mid-March by representatives, surprising ByteDance. But the hypothesis of a positive vote in the Senate seemed uncertain due to the lack of consensus on this issue within the Democratic and Republican camps. Opponents threatened to invoke freedom of expression provided for in the First Amendment to the Constitution to block the text.

The new version of the text voted on this evening, which is more consensual, gives ByteDance nearly a year to sever ties with TikTok, compared to six months previously. It is actually a period of nine months, with the US President having the possibility to extend it (only once) for a period of 90 days. A more realistic timing for completing the sale of the company, according to many opponents of the first version of the bill.

However, this transfer remains unconfirmed. ByteDance has repeatedly warned that it will oppose forced sales. For the Chinese group, this bill amounts to a total ban on TikTok in the United States. ByteDance sees this as just another episode in the battle between China and the United States. He must immediately appeal this decision to the court. Content creators, whose income depends on the platform, can also appeal the decision in court.

To complete the sale, it also remains to find buyers willing to pay at least $100 billion to acquire the ByteDance subsidiary, which achieved $16 billion in sales last year. There are not many candidates at this point. Aside from Bobby Kotick, the former head of video game publisher Activision who would privately pitch the joint bid idea to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, and former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is reportedly in the process of assembling a group of investors, no suitor's name has leaked. last.

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Trump failed to confront TikTok

While there is still much unknown regarding the outcome of this case, this vote remains the first of its kind in the United States. Four years ago, Donald Trump also wanted to ban TikTok, unless the Chinese social network was sold to an American company. A sale to Microsoft or Oracle has been considered. But he chose to submit to several presidential decrees that were overturned by two federal judges in separate jurisdictions, in September and December 2020. In the end, Joe Biden – who had succeeded Trump in the meantime – did not object to these decisions. Then Montana, which was the first state to ban TikTok in May 2023, was finally denied.

If the ban is achieved, the United States would follow in the footsteps of other countries that have already banned TikTok, including India (2020), Pakistan, and Afghanistan.