TikTok Will Sue the U.S. Government, Challenging Trump Executive Order

The social media company will file a lawsuit in the coming week

TikTok and smartphone showing Trump's Twitter account
A lawsuit from ByteDance could come in the next week. Getty Images
Headshot of Scott Nover

ByteDance, the embattled parent company of TikTok, confirmed publicly Saturday that it will sue the U.S. government over President Donald Trump’s Aug. 6 executive order prohibiting American citizens and companies from transactions with the popular social media app.

TIkTok spokesperson Josh Gartner said the company plans to file suit in the coming week. 

“Even though we strongly disagree with the Administration’s concerns, for nearly a year we have sought to engage in good faith to provide a constructive solution,” Gartner said in a statement. “What we encountered instead was a lack of due process as the Administration paid no attention to facts and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses. To ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and users are treated fairly, we have no choice but to challenge the Executive Order through the judicial system.”

TikTok hinted at a suit on Aug. 7, when the company issued an unsigned statement saying the executive order “sets a dangerous precedent for the concept of free expression and open markets.” The New York Times reported ByteDance’s confirmation of the suit Saturday. 

It’s been a tumultuous summer for America’s hottest and fastest-growing social media app, one that’s particularly popular with teenagers. Trump previously said he wants to “ban” the app because of the company’s Chinese roots and unproven allegations that it shares U.S. user data with Beijing. TikTok recently moved its headquarters to the Cayman Islands, hired American CEO Kevin Mayer and mounted a vigorous lobbying defense of growing bipartisan skepticism in Washington. 

Unlike the Chinese government, the Trump administration cannot outlaw individual internet companies or forbid users from accessing them but can essentially force ByteDance to sell the app if it wants to keep operating in America. The Aug. 6 executive order gave a 45-day window in which ByteDance would have to sell the app, and a more recent executive order on Aug. 14 sparked by the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a mechanism through which Trump has more direct authority in forcing such a sale. Last year, the administration ordered the Chinese-based company Kunlun Tech to sell the popular gay dating app Grindr.

Microsoft has emerged as the likeliest winner of the race to acquire TikTok, a deal that must be completed by Sept. 20, but Oracle and Twitter as well as investors like Sequoia Capital, SoftBank Group and General Atlantic have been involved in talks. 

A White House spokesperson declined to comment about the impending lawsuit, but experts told Adweek the multiple executive orders—with different deadlines—along with a separate Sept. 15 deadline originally negotiated between Trump and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella are all part of an overwhelming campaign to get TikTok into U.S. hands.

“We now have three deadlines, but I see it as a pressure campaign to force ByteDance to sell,” James Andrew Lewis, director of the technology policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Adweek recently. “It’s not the most coordinated effort you ever saw.”

Gartner did not respond to a request for further comment about what would be in the suit. While the company’s previous statement mentioned free expression and open markets, its statement Saturday focused instead on “due process,” alluding to a complaint with Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment claims.

Lewis previously said a due process claim would need a “really friendly judge” to stick in court, maintaining that a First Amendment argument would be stronger.

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