TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer Quits Amid Trump Pressure

The former Disney executive only started in June 

kevin mayer
Kevin Mayer, seen here at the 2019 D23 Expo, joined TikTok from Disney just two months ago. Getty Images
Headshot of Scott Nover

Kevin Mayer, who joined TikTok as CEO only two months ago, resigned from the short-form video sharing site overnight. The former Disney streaming executive was the all-American solution to TikTok’s biggest woe: its Chinese origins. 

While TikTok had been inundated with regulatory scrutiny and bipartisan concern for the entirety of its short history—since parent company ByteDance purchased Musical.ly in 2017 and made TikTok into what it is now—Mayer did not expect the tumult this summer would bring. 

TikTok and parent company ByteDance are now engaged in a legal battle with the U.S. government, fighting two separate executive orders mandating ByteDance to sell the app or cease doing business in the United States. 

Mayer resigned as CEO of TikTok overnight Thursday in a letter to employees first obtained by The Financial Times. In the letter, Mayer said the “political environment has sharply changed” and he had done “significant reflection” on what the administration-forced changes would mean for his role.

“I understand that the role that I signed up for—including running TikTok globally—will look very different as a result of the U.S. administration’s action to push for a sell-off of the U.S. business,” he wrote. 

Mayer—who also served as COO of ByteDance—was a prime talking point for TikTok in its effort to appease U.S. lawmakers and regulators.  

“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with over 1,000 employees in the U.S,” spokesperson Laura Perez told Adweek in a July statement. “We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for the millions of Americans who use TikTok. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

TikTok provided a statement to Adweek about Mayer’s resignation: “We appreciate that the political dynamics of the last few months have significantly changed what the scope of Kevin’s role would be going forward, and fully respect his decision. We thank him for his time at the company and wish him well.”

Mayer’s role at TikTok may have changed given a sale to another corporation, like Microsoft or Oracle. But, without that name-brand Hollywood CEO, one of TikTok’s prime selling points to Washington is off the table. 

Vanessa Pappas, general manager of TikTok, will step in as interim CEO, Mayer said in his letter. Pappas, a former YouTube executive, has been a more public face of the company this month, participating in interviews with NBC’s Today and New York Magazine. On Aug. 1, she also released a video from TikTok’s main account to promise users the app is staying put.

Now it’s Pappas’ turn in the hot seat: She’s staring down an unprecedented regulatory blitz, navigating a sale and fighting an uphill legal battle, all while working to assure users and advertisers that TikTok is both safe and here for the long run.

Read Mayer’s full resignation letter from his role of CEO at TikTok below:

In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for. Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company.

I want to be clear that this decision has nothing to do with the company, what I see for our future, or the belief I have in what we are building. [ByteDance founder Zhang] Yiming understands my decision and I thank him for his support on this.

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