TikTok’s precarious position in the US is heating up. Now ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming is weighing in.
Yesterday, President Trump said he gave Microsoft a deadline of September 15th to complete their acquisition talks. Trump says if the negotiations are unproductive, i.e., Microsoft doesn’t acquire TikTok, he’ll ban the app from the United States. Trump also says the US Treasury should “receive a substantial portion” of any sale of TikTok.
Welcome to the most bizarre and high-stakes tech acquisition of modern times. Outside of the usual complexities, both sides have to grapple with how much to shave off for Uncle Sam. And Trump could put the kibosh on the deal at any moment.
In a letter to employees sent on Tuesday, ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming called the move by Trump “unreasonable.”
He says the Trump administration is forcing ByteDance to sell to Microsoft, but it has no choice but to comply with US law. Zhang Yiming says a sale to Microsoft “is not their goal, or even what they want. Their real objective is to achieve a comprehensive ban.”
Neither ByteDance nor TikTok has commented publicly on the CEO letter that leaked. Zhang confirms ByteDance is “working around the clock” to find a solution before the clock runs out.
“The current geopolitical public opinion environment is becoming more and more complex. We are facing great external pressure in some markets,” Zhang writes. He indicates that ByteDance may be looking to push back against US demands.
“Even though we’ve repeatedly stressed that we’re a privately-run business, and despite our willingness to adopt even more technical solutions to allay their concerns, CFIUS still believes ByteDance has to sell the TikTok US operation,” Zhang continues. “We do not agree with this decision.”
CFIUS, in this regard, refers to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. CFIUS started its investigation into ByteDance’s acquisition of TikTok in November 2019. A letter from Senator Marco Rubio prompted CFIUS to begin its investigation on concerns of censorship.
Trump has been posturing about a possible TikTok ban since India took the unprecedented step.
The Indian government banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese-owned apps from operating in the country. Now the United States and Australia are considering doing the same, with Japan potentially next.
Even if TikTok isn’t ultimately banned in the United States, its stars are migrating to other platforms. US-based Triller has exploded in growth since a TikTok ban became a possibility. Instagram is working overtime on its Reels feature, which is rolling out to many more countries. And Snapchat just secured critical licenses to start its TikTok imitator.
These solutions are intended to soak up the migration of TikTok stars who want to keep their following intact with their departure. The months of uncertainty surrounding TikTok are likely causing a huge depression in revenues, too.