TikTok begins legal action against possible US ban


TikTok and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, filed court documents this week after legislation was passed that forces the app to either be sold to an American company, or banned from the country.

Pres. Joe Biden signed legislation two weeks ago that gives TikTok a total of 270 days to find a non-Chinese buyer – or be kicked out of the US.

The popular video-sharing platform claims the decision is unconstitutional.

“For the first time in history, Congress has enacted legislation that subjects a single, named platform to a permanent, nationwide ban that prevents every American from participating in a unique, online community with more than a billion people worldwide,” TikTok and ByteDance’s court filings state.

The lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Washington and argues that the move violates Americans’ right to freedom of speech.

The company also argues that the withdrawal required – so that TikTok can continue to be used in the US – is “simply not possible” and moreover not by the given deadline.

The White House can extend the deadline once by 90 days and during this time the nearly 170 million American users may still use it.

Put it down

ByteDance has no intention of selling TikTok and the court case, which will probably end up in the Supreme Court, is the only way to avoid a ban.

The company says it is undoubtedly the case that the legislation will force TikTok to be shut down in the US by January 19, 2025 and “silence those who use the platform to communicate in ways that cannot be replicated anywhere else”.

TikTok initially had him in the crosshairs of ex-pres. Donald Trump’s administration found out and it also tried – unsuccessfully – to ban the app.

The attempt caught the wind in the courts and a federal judge temporarily banned Trump’s attempt and found that the reasons given to justify the ban were probably exaggerated and put the right to freedom of speech in jeopardy.

The new effort (signed by Biden) is supposed to overcome these legal hurdles. Some experts believe that the reasons for the ban – that national security concerns must outweigh the right to freedom of speech – could ultimately be decisive in the courts.

TikTok has previously succeeded in its arguments about the right to freedom of speech, but judges are likely to stick with Congress’s decision and concerns about national security, says Prof. Gautam Hans, a legal expert attached to Cornell University.

“Without a public discussion about what exactly the dangers are, it is difficult to try to determine why the courts would ratify such an unprecedented piece of legislation,” says Hans.

The US has strict restrictions on foreign ownership of broadcast media, but the authorities have so far not tinkered much with internet platforms.

TikTok has taken several steps to allay fears that the data of US users is vulnerable. The company claims in the court papers that the government has disregarded these measures.

There are serious doubts whether any buyer would come forward to buy TikTok, even if ByteDance were to agree to the requirement.

The usual names, like Meta or YouTube, are likely to be prevented from buying TikTok due to competition requirements. Others probably won’t be able to afford one of the world’s most successful apps.

There are also doubts about whether the company will ever give away the secrets of its algorithm, which made TikTok a global online phenomenon.