Whether or not he physically can, US President Donald Trump has vowed he will ban video app TikTok.
Mr Trump made the announcement on Friday US time to reporters, and TikTok responded on Saturday, saying it was “not going anywhere”.
On the surface, the app appears innocent enough.
It’s a video-based platform that encourages users to create short, funny videos to share. Quite often there’s dancing involved.
TikTok creators heading to the polls on Nov 3rd to vote out Donald Trump. pic.twitter.com/PzkT0wjlcD
— ⓣ ⓗ ⓘ ⓝ ⓚ ⓔ ⓡ (@someknew) August 1, 2020
The problem is, its parent company ByteDance is a Beijing-based outfit.
There are fears the Chinese government is forcing the company to hand over the data gathered through TikTok.
Mr Trump’s administration is currently investigating if ByteDance is indeed harvesting data from American users.
TikTok in the US insists the states’ user data is stored there, with “strict controls on employee access”.
#TikTok US General Manager Vanessa Pappas on Trump's move to ban TikTok in the US: "We thank millions of Americans who use TikTok everyday, bringing their creativity & joy into our daily lives.We are not planning on going anywhere." pic.twitter.com/rjHUCXxjuG https://t.co/kULWzplhkW
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 2, 2020
If indeed Mr Trump does manage to ban the app, its owners are prepared to sell the US operations to sidestep the ban, sources have said.
It could even be thrown a lifeline by tech stalwart Microsoft, which is heavily rumoured to be tossing up acquiring the app.
What’s the evidence to back up the beef?
There have been reports TikTok has censored content that discusses the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, and videos related to Tibetan independence and pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong.
These are all touchy subjects with the Chinese government – on the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square last year, memorials and dialogue around the event were heavily censored and controlled.
US federal employees were last week banned from installing the app on government-issued devices.
However, there’s no hard-line evidence the app is feeding any US data to the Chinese government, or that its owners have any direct ties to the Chinese Community Party.
It has already been banned in India, alongside some 60 Chinese-made apps.
Australia’s TikTok dilemma
The app has some 800 million users worldwide, and 1.6 million of them are in Australia.
Like we are wont to do, Australia is starting to make noises to follow the US in banning TikTok.
In July, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government was looking “very closely” into the app via not one but two investigations.
“If we consider there is a need to take further action than we are taking now, then I can tell you we won’t be shy about it,” Mr Morrison said.
TikTok Australia general manager Lee Hunter spoke to The New Daily last month.
Mr Hunter said Australians’ data was stored on servers in Singapore while the company continued to invest in next-generation security systems.
TikTok users are already vowing revenge against “evil Cheeto man” Donald Trump. This is going to be fun.
— Palmer Report (@PalmerReport) August 1, 2020
“TikTok does not share information of our users in Australia with any foreign government, including the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked,” said Mr Hunter in a statement that was reiterated on Sunday.
Hitting a raw nerve?
There are schools of thought that suggest Mr Trump might be being extra harsh on TikTok because of the role it played in humiliating him at what was meant to be one of his biggest pre-election support rallies.
He claimed one million people had registered to attend his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June.
The reality was a campaign had spread through TikTok, encouraging people to reserve seats to the rally – with the full intention of never showing up.
🔇AYO🔇 TRUMP🔇WE🔇STILL🔇🔇ON🔇TIKTOK🔇YOU🔇STILL🔇MAD🔇 ABOUT🔇 THAT🔇 RALLY🔇
— Nikkkkkiiiii (@Nikkkkkiiiii2) August 2, 2020
The result was the all-powerful, coronavirus-can’t-stop-me US President was televised across the world addressing a stadium that was at one-third of its capacity.
If you don’t believe in coincidences, it wasn’t until after this rally that a Trump official first raised the concept of banning TikTok.
The President had never even mentioned the app publicly before that rally.
MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 2, 2020