TikTok escapes Donald Trump’s wrath … for now. An American judge, Carl Nicholas, suspended Sunday, September 27, a few hours before its entry into force, a decree signed by Donald Trump in early August which was to prevent Americans from downloading the application and having access to updates on the social network, unless it is bought by an American company. TikTok filed an appeal on September 18 against this decree and therefore won its case. However, Carl Nicholas refused to suspend the total ban on the app on US soil, scheduled for November 12.
The reasons for his decision are under seal to protect potentially confidential information, but are due to be released on Monday once the two sides agree. “We are satisfied that the court agreed with our legal arguments and prevented the implementation of the ban,” responded TikTok. The Commerce Ministry said it would comply with the judge’s ruling, but fully intended “to vigorously defend the presidential decree against legal pitfalls.”
“The modern version of the public forum”
In a telephone hearing Sunday morning, lawyers for TikTok said blocking downloads of the app would be unconstitutional and violate the right to free speech, especially in the run-up to the November 3 presidential election. “TikTok is much more than an application, it is the modern version of the public forum, it is a community, it is a means of communication (…) all the more important in times of pandemic”, argues lawyer John Hall. “If the ban goes into effect, it is as if the government is preventing 2/3 of the country from coming to the agora.”
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The platform also assured that it would cause irreparable damage in terms of growth, while it gained some 424,000 new American users per day at the beginning of the summer. And stopping updates would ironically “erode security” for the current 100 million US users, Hall said.
Agreement being finalized with Oracle
For its part, the government considers ByteDance as a “spokesperson” for the Chinese Communist Party and says it wants to prevent new users from being exposed to the risk of having their data looted by China. Donald Trump has long accused TikTok of spying on its users for the benefit of Beijing, without evidence. Since its decree, negotiations, invective at the top and twists and turns in the courts have been linked. If the negotiations are not successful, a complete ban on the network’s activities on American soil could come into force from November 12, the Treasury warned.
TikTok confirmed last weekend an agreement to create a new company, TikTok Global, with Oracle as a technology partner in the United States and Walmart as a business partner. There would also be a stake of 12.5% from Oracle and 7.5% from Walmart. The Americans would hold four of the five seats on the board. But the finalization depends on the goodwill of the American president and the Chinese government. “We are continuing our ongoing dialogue with the government to finalize this project, to which the president has given his preliminary approval,” TikTok said on Sunday evening.