Trump Sets Yet Another Deadline for TikTok Sale

It's the second executive order in weeks targeted at parent company ByteDance

A federal judge granted an injunction on Trump's TikTok app ban Sunday. Kacy Burdette
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President Donald Trump has escalated his rhetoric against TikTok parent company ByteDance, signing a second executive order late Friday aimed at further incentivizing the company, which originated in China, to divest from its fast-growing social media app, a cultural sensation among American teenagers.

This is the third deadline Trump has set for the company, reportedly agreeing with potential new owner Microsoft to acquire TikTok by Sept. 15. In a previous executive order, he had set a 45-day deadline window (Sept. 20) for ByteDance to sell off TikTok. The new deadline does not replace the original, experts told Adweek, so ByteDance still needs to complete a deal by Sept. 20.

In Trump’s previous order, announced Aug. 6, he ordered U.S. citizens and companies to cease “transactions” with ByteDance over unproven allegations that the app is sharing U.S. user data with the Chinese government. However, the administration has not said what constitutes a transaction. 

Trump’s new order, which caps off a yearlong national security review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), said that ByteDance, through its 2017 acquisition of the app and relaunching it as TikTok, “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.” The executive action mandates that ByteDance must divest from TikTok ownership and operation in the United States and destroy all related data within 90 days from Friday, or Nov. 12.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who chairs CFIUS, called the review “exhaustive” and said the committee, which includes much of the cabinet, “unanimously recommended this action” to the president.

“This new order is confusing—we now have three deadlines, but I see it as a pressure campaign to force ByteDance to sell,” said James Andrew Lewis, director of the technology policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s not the most coordinated effort you ever saw.”

Brent Skorup, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, said the new order is “complementary” and operates “simultaneously.” If TikTok misses the first Sept. 20 deadline, any new deal will need approval from the Commerce Secretary; after the Nov. 12 deadline, any new deal will need approval from both Commerce and CFIUS, Skorup said.

Trump’s first TikTok order was rooted in a 1977 law called the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which grants the president emergency economic powers; but legal and policy experts were uncertain whether it would fully stand up to a legal challenge. ByteDance has previously threatened legal action over the original order, though no lawsuit has yet been filed. 

The CFIUS action has more direct precedent, most recently last year when it ordered the Chinese-based company Kunlun Tech to sell the popular gay dating app Grindr.

Microsoft, the Redmond, Wash.-based tech company, is already weeks into its pursuit of TikTok’s operations in multiple countries including the United States, a deal that would put the popular app, and its user data, into the hands of an American company. Twitter is also reportedly exploring a deal, and any agreement could include other investors like Sequoia Capital, SoftBank Group and General Atlantic.

TikTok spokesperson Laura Perez did not respond directly to a question about the latest executive order but issued a general statement about TikTok: “As we’ve said previously, TikTok is loved by 100 million Americans because it is a home for entertainment, self-expression and connection. We’re committed to continuing to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform for many years to come.”

@ScottNover Scott Nover is a platforms reporter at Adweek, covering social media companies and their influence.