TikTok nears the endgame

Breaking off TikTok from ByteDance might be the right thing to do — but it will come at a high cost. PLUS: How Twitter keeps competitors off its For You page

TikTok nears the endgame
(Solen Feyissa / Unsplash)


After months of silence, and a multi-billion-dollar effort from ByteDance to avoid this scenario, the Biden administration is picking up where its predecessor left off: attempting to force the company to divest itself of TikTok in the name of national security.

ByteDance is now faced with a pair of deeply unpalatable choices: agree to the sale, or risk being banned in the United States — and, before long, in many other countries around the world.

Here’s John D. McKinnon in the Wall Street Journal:

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or Cfius—a multiagency federal task force that oversees national-security risks in cross-border investments—made the sale demand recently, the people said. […]

It wasn’t immediately clear what the next step by the U.S. would be, and the people familiar with the matter say a resolution could be months away. TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, is scheduled to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week to address lawmakers’ questions on the security issues. 

Few subjects have inspired more columns in Platformer history than the fate of TikTok, which is by some measures the world’s most popular app and is almost certainly the most geopolitically fraught. To most of its users, it is a profoundly engaging entertainment app and an engine for creating culture.

To a growing number of regulators around the world, though, it represents a profound and possibly unacceptable liability: a tool that could and arguably already has enabled Chinese surveillance and propaganda.

With the conclusion of this saga now likely to be reached within months, I want to lay out my own deeply mixed feelings about this state of affairs. Weighing the pros and cons of the Biden administration’s move, I can understand why the administration came to the conclusion it has.

But I’m deeply uncomfortable about the implications of governments making one-off decisions to eliminate social apps on national security grounds, while at the same time taking a pass on national privacy legislation and other regulations that would take a more systematic approach to protecting Americans’ security.


Let’s start by acknowledging that the current state of affairs is untenable.