ByteDance Remains Hands-Off As TikTok Leadership Aims to Combat Potential U.S. Ban

ByteDance TikTok ban battle headed to the Senate
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ByteDance TikTok ban battle headed to the Senate
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Photo Credit: Maria Oswalt

Chinese company ByteDance has left the TikTok U.S. team build its own response to the potential ban weaving its way through Congress. Here’s the latest.

Unlike the potential ban TikTok faced under the Trump administration in 2020, ByteDance is remaining hands-off in its approach. Instead, TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi has been left to lead the efforts—while TikTok rallies its uses to oppose the ban. ByteDance was directly involved in negotiations to prevent the ban in 2020. At the time, it poached Kevin Mayer from The Walt Disney Company to serve as TikTok CEO—but Mayer departed after just three months.

Now under the guidance of Chew, the TikTok U.S. team is pushing back against the bill that would seek to force ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a ban in the U.S. So far, ByteDance’s only direct response to the potential TikTok ban is to deny a Wall Street Journal report that suggested company Co-Founder Zhang Yiming had discussed a potential sale of TikTok to interested buyers.

The TikTok U.S. team has purchased several television ads this week, while also promoting the hashtag #KeepTikTok to its users. The campaign involves several TikTok influencers and merchants who use the app for their livelihood and how a potential ban may impact them.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill requiring ByteDance to divest from TikTok. Now the legislation will square-off for debate in the Senate. TikTok has spent more than $100,000 in ads on Meta’s platforms Facebook and Instagram to get the word out about the legislation.

Last month, TikTok sent push notifications to all of its users asking them to contact lawmakers and ask them to vote against any bill that would ban TikTok. While that heavy-handed effort appears to have worked, it also resulted in lawmakers receiving death threats. The Senate must pass their own version of the ‘TikTok ban’ bill, but there is currently no time line for that legislation.

Meanwhile, Chinese business news publication Caixin says ByteDance is not seeking to sell TikTok. “It would be impossible for ByteDance to sell TikTok within 180 days” and it would be impossible for founder Zhang to divest,” Caixin reported, citing multiple sources familiar with ByteDance’s position. Regulations passed in China in 2020 would require a government review of the TikTok algorithms before any sale—a measure which was passed in response to the Trump administration’s proposed TikTok ban.