In leaked internal memo, TikTok vows to fight US ban: US media

Not going down without a fight.

Fiona Tan | April 25, 2024, 12:20 AM



TikTok could potentially be banned in the United States (U.S.); its fate now lies in the hands of one President Joe Biden.

But TikTok is supposedly planning a legal challenge to challenge the ban.

Fight in the courts

Biden has said he will sign a bill forcing TikTok to divest from its Chinese parent company ByteDance Ltd or be banned in the U.S., if Congress passes it.

And the bill was on its way after it was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and more recently, the U.S. Senate on Apr. 23, 2024.

However, TikTok, and by extension ByteDance, may not be going down without a fight.

TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas, Michael Beckerman, issued an internal memo on Apr. 20 and vowed to fight the bill once it is signed.

In the memo that was leaked and seen by American technology industry–focused business publication The Information, Beckerman added that TikTok will "move to the courts for a legal challenge".

Their point of contention?

"This legislation is a clear violation of the first amendment rights [to free speech] of the 170 million Americans on TikTok," Beckerman said.

Turbulent times

In the wake of everything that is happening, The Information reported on Apr. 21, a day after Beckerman issued the internal memo, that ByteDance and TikTok's general counsel Erich Andersen has stepped down from his role.

Andersen had led years-long talks with the U.S. government to show that TikTok was doing enough to prevent China from accessing U.S. users’ data, or influencing what they see on their feeds, according to Bloomberg.

Andersen said he will continue his duties until a suitable candidate takes over, after which he plans to serve as ByteDance and TikTok's legal adviser instead.

The proverbial final straw came after Andersen failed to persuade the interagency government panel assessing TikTok's security and the passage of the sell-or-ban bill in Congress, effectively signalling Andersen's failure to win over the U.S. government.

The timing of Andersen's removal is also noteworthy; he sent the email indicating his stepping down on Apr. 21, according to The Information, just one day after the bill was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Apr. 20.

A TikTok spokesperson responded to Bloomberg's queries and denied that there are plans to remove Andersen from his post, calling it "100 per cent false".

What happens next?

Once the bill becomes law, ByteDance has up to a year to divest TikTok to a company not headquartered in a country considered a foreign adversary of the U.S.

But going by Beckerman's memo, it supposedly has no plans of doing so at the moment.

Beckerman said: "We’ll continue to fight. This is the beginning, not the end of this long process."

Bloomberg reported a person familiar with TikTok's thinking, saying that the Chinese government has made it clear it wants neither TikTok’s prized algorithms nor its valuable data to fall into American hands.

Citing another person familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reported that ByteDance is expecting to get a restraining order on the legislation, before waging a legal battle that could last more than a year.

And by that point, the losses could be on both sides, Bloomberg suggested.

Ways that U.S. users could circumvent the ban

Bloomberg also reported that it remains unclear how a TikTok ban might work in the U.S..

Time reported that even if TikTok wound up being banned, it would not disappear from the U.S. overnight.

UC Irvine’s cybersecurity policy and research institute executive director Bryan Cunningham told Time that TikTok "can’t actually be fully banned".

Should it be removed from app stores, U.S. users who have already downloaded the TikTok app on their phones can continue using the app.

However, their user experience may deteriorate over time as the app would no longer be eligible for updates.

U.S. users can also use a VPN to bypass the ban.

TikTok users applying the pressure on lawmakers

In the meantime, TikTok has once again turned to its most powerful contingent — its devoted users — to help pressure lawmakers.

Bloomberg reported that users in the U.S. who search for "TikTok bill" on the app are shown a banner on the screen encouraging them to "Stop the TikTok ban."

Those who click are directed to a page where they can enter their zip code to find and call their senators.

Time reported that the "MoveOn" petition calling on Biden not to ban TikTok has garnered over 30,000 signatures.

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Top image by Solen Feyissa from Unsplash