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Why the last attempt to ban TikTok failed

Geoff Weiss   

Why the last attempt to ban TikTok failed
  • Four years ago, at the end of his presidency, Donald Trump wanted to ban TikTok.
  • TikTok sued the government, and his efforts were foiled when Joe Biden took office.

A TikTok ban inched closer to reality on Wednesday after Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill that would force the app to divest its US business or shut down.

But we've had this conversation before — and it shows that banning a popular app with rich owners is not as easy as it seems.

The year is 2020, and President Donald Trump is threatening to ban TikTok, saying he's worried about security and the Chinese ownership of TikTok's parent company, ByteDance.

At the time, TikTok denied sharing data with China, and said it never would if asked.

Trump had tussled with TikTok before. At one point, he suggested a ban could punish China for the COVID-19 pandemic. And some speculated the app had earned his ire after a viral social-media campaign seemed to tank one of his rallies in Tulsa.

In August 2020, he issued an executive order demanding the app be sold to an American owner or shut down, sparking negotiations with both Microsoft and Oracle.

Following the executive order, the US Commerce Department threatened to ban TikTok (and WeChat) downloads from the Apple and Google app stores.

TikTok delayed the ban until Trump left office

TikTok fired back by suing the US government, arguing it had been denied due process and citing a lack of evidence in the claims. In September 2020, it requested a preliminary injunction to delay the app-store ban just before it was supposed to take effect.

A federal judge granted the injunction, saying the ban most likely exceeded Trump's authority.

After Trump left office in January 2021, President Joe Biden rescinded Trump's executive order, effectively killing the momentum for a ban — though Biden did direct his commerce secretary to investigate the company.

In 2022, TikTok launched Project Texas, a $1.5 billion investment to quell concerns about Chinese interference and data security.

Fast forward to today, and the tables have abruptly turned. Despite recently campaigning on TikTok, Biden has indicated he would sign the latest ban bill into law (if it passes in the Senate.)

Trump, meanwhile, has flip-flopped on TikTok, saying a ban would bolster Facebook, which he said was the "true enemy of the people."

Trump's defense of the app came after he met with the billionaire GOP donor and ByteDance investor Jeff Yass — though the former President insisted the two didn't discuss TikTok.

TikTok, meanwhile, has vowed to fight the ban once again, mobilizing its users to call Congress (though it seems the pressure campaign backfired). Bloomberg reported that the social-media giant was prepping its lawyers to stop a forced sale.

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