TikTok After Trump
Reason magazine|March 2021
Tiktok has succeeded wildly where similar short-form video platforms—including Vine and the Facebook-backed Lasso—did not.
By Elizabeth Nolan Brown

As of August 2020, the app had 100 million active U.S. users, up from about 11.3 million at the start of 2018 and 39.9 million in October 2019. While becoming a vehicle for teen influencers, viral dance sensations, and sketch comedy, however, TikTok also became a target of the Trump administration’s animosity toward both China and social media.

China’s version of TikTok, Douyin, was launched in 2016 by ByteDance, a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands and headquartered in Beijing. In 2017, ByteDance bought the karaoke app Musical.ly and relaunched it as Douyin’s global cousin, TikTok. The app’s U.S. arm, which employs more than 1,500 people, stores user data in the United States and Singapore.

In August 2020, then–President Donald Trump issued an executive order declaring that TikTok and the China-based messaging platform WeChat were national security threats. He banned Americans from transacting with ByteDance, allowing 45 days for the order to take effect.

Trump’s order fretted about the possibility that TikTok videos could spread coronavirus misinformation and warned that the app could be manipulated to aid the Chinese government. But the order did not allege that ByteDance had broken U.S. laws or suggest a plausible mechanism by which the Chinese state might use TikTok nefariously.

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