TikTok Tries — But Fails — to Rally Users Against App Ban

Beijing-based ByteDance, the owner of popular video-sharing app TikTok, made a last-ditch effort this week to rally opposition against a new US law that will force the company to sell TikTok or face a nationwide ban. However, the attempt appears to have fallen flat.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed the bill into law, giving ByteDance nine months to divest from TikTok before potential penalties are imposed. Within minutes, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew released a video addressing users, framing the law as a threat to free expression and American values.

“This is a ban, a ban on TikTok and a ban on you and your voice,” Chew declared, urging users to share how the app impacts their lives to “showcase exactly what we’re fighting for.” He vowed TikTok would keep “fighting for your rights in the courts.”

A quick scan of the responses would show mostly support for the new law, with comments like “It’s not a ban, loser. So sorry you can’t spy on people this way anymore.” The account, Tiktok Policy, also had to defend itself, rather aggressively, against the community note on the video. It insisted that state owned China Internet Investment Fund’s 1% stake in Douyin, which is the China only version of Tiktok, “does not give the Chinese government any right to influence the operations of TikTok US.”

Related: Former TikTok Employees Contradict CEO’s Claim, Allege Close Ties with ByteDance

Chew’s attempt to frame is as a threat to free expression is also almost silly considering American apps — including Google, Facebook, and Instagram — have long been banned in China due to their refusal to comply with the government’s data collection and content-sharing rules.

Related: Beijing’s TikTok Ban Criticism Rings Hollow Amid Its Own Online Censorship

People also criticized the video’s mixed messaging and awkward delivery, which likely undermined its persuasive impact. According to Rostra founder and former Substack VP of Communications Lulu Cheng Meservey, by appearing scripted and shifting his gaze, Chew came across as evasive and untrustworthy. 

She notes that TikTok’s attempts to portray itself as both an underdog facing censorship and a dominant platform with 170 million American users sent contradictory signals. 

“You can be an underdog, or you can dominate. It’s hard to pull off both.”

The decision to post the video through the “Tiktok Policy” account, she says, also raises credibility issues, specifically because it’s a Chinese company and the account was only created in November last year when Tiktok was already facing this crisis.

“Free advice: if you’re accused of exerting foreign influence in the US, it’s best not to make an account for the explicit purpose of trying to influence American policy.”

While ByteDance is expected to legally challenge the divestment order, the muted response to Chew’s attempt at a rallying cry suggests the company will have a difficult time swaying public opinion ahead of a ban.

Related: ByteDance Prefers To Shutdown TikTok Rather Than Sell

Information for this story was found via the sources and companies mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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