The TikTok Ban Countdown Begins: Short-Form Giant Denies Emergency Staffing Shakeup and Starts Rallying Its Legal Defenses

Erich Andersen TikTok global counsel may be fired
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Erich Andersen TikTok global counsel may be fired
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Photo Credit: TikTok (Erich Andersen)

TikTok is denying reports it plans to remove Erich Andersen, the general counsel responsible for negotiating with the U.S. government.

Andersen was hired by TikTok in 2020 as its global head counsel and has led talks for the social media giant with the American government. Those talks were supposed to convince the government that TikTok was keeping American data silo’d and away from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) access—though investigative reports have revealed those efforts were mostly kabuki theater.

Reports of Chinese engineers having back doors to all U.S. data surfaced, alongside another report that the CCP directly accessed TikTok data of Hong Kong users. On Saturday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require TikTok to be sold by its Chinese parent company ByteDance—or face a ban in the United States.

What happens after TikTok gets banned in the US?

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According to reports, this latest effort to ban TikTok has led to talks for Andersen to exit his current role. TikTok has denied those reports, with spokesperson Alex Haurek calling the report, “100% false.” Despite the denial, another report suggests an internal note sent by Andersen mentioned a transition period.

The Information reports the note was sent to TikTok leaders and his own legal team, stating he would continue to serve as general counsel “until the company is ready to proceed with the transition to a new leader and we can be assured that there will be no drop off in focus and attention.”

Andersen says he will stay on as a legal adviser to ByteDance/TikTok following the departure—no date is mentioned in the internal memo. It’s likely that Andersen’s departure is just one of many contingencies the social media giant is preparing for in order to combat a potential ban in the United States. ByteDance has no plans to sell TikTok after gaining such a massive foothold in the country compared to 2020—when the Trump ban was discussed.

Now Bloomberg reports that TikTok will fight the ban in courts. “TikTok’s management vowed in an internal memo to staff ‘we will move to the courts for a legal challenge’ if the bill winding its way through Congress is signed into law.”

Part of that is because the law contains provisions for all apps that are designated as originating from a foreign adversary of the United States. Chinese companies like Tencent Holdings, NetEase, and Alibaba could also face a ban of their apps in the United States under the law. If the United States does take steps to ban TikTok, its allies across the globe could follow suit. India has already banned the app in favor of other alternatives like Triller, YouTube Shorts, and Instagram’s Reels.

The fight over TikTok has escalated as TikTok has grown in the United States. Its fledgling e-commerce business is designed to have influencers selling goods to young Americans—a rival to Amazon’s dominance. TikTok plans to argue that forcing 170 million Americans off of the app violates the First Amendment right to free speech. It will also highlight small businesses that have grown using TikTok as their marketing tool.