Trump Administration Delays Action Against WeChat and TikTok

image credit: CNBC

By Chand BellurSeptember 20, 2020 at 2:59 p.m

  • On August 6, 2020, Donald Trump signed executive orders effectively banning TikTok and WeChat in the United States.
  • The action gave the U.S. Department of Commerce 45 days to develop a plan for banning TikTok and WeChat by September 20, 2020.
  • The Trump administration extended its deadline as a deal between Oracle and Walmart may result in a 20% acquisition of both platforms.

Trump Flip Flops on TikTok and WeChat Bans

China is America’s not so new bogeyman. For decades, American leaders have conjured up foreign threats for the sake of domestic political gain. As the November election draws near, Trump’s nationalist rhetoric grows more intense.

Donald Trump recently revised his executive order, no longer banning TikTok and WeChat from app markets. Amid a deal between Walmart and Oracle, Donald Trump claims that China will no longer be involved with WeChat and TikTok in the United States.

China Will Still Own 80% of TikTok and WeChat

Whether it’s dishonesty or ignorance, Donald Trump incorrectly claimed that China will no longer be part of TikTok and WeChat in the United States. Chinese parent corporation ByteDance, developers of TikTok and WeChat, will still own an 80% stake in the company, as the deal only allocates 20% to Walmart and Oracle.

Under the proposed deal, Oracle will acquire 12.5% of ByteDance and run all U.S. data center operations. Walmart will own 7.5% of the Chinese company, with the remaining 80% controlled by ByteDance.

Oracle’s move to take over data center operations for U.S. TikTok and WeChat customers could bring greater security to the platform, in addition to peace of mind for some users. Beijing-based ByteDance will continue to develop software updates for both social media apps.

Xenophobia Energizes Trump’s Base

Trump’s motive for action against ByteDance is part revenge and part show. A movement on TikTok urged users to reserve seats for his Tulsa, Oklahoma rally, to prevent his supporters from attending the event. The political prank seemed to work, as Trump spoke to an almost empty venue. Largely due to TikTok, two-thirds of the BOK Center in Tulsa Oklahoma stood empty. Humiliated, Trump seems to have concocted a thinly-veiled plan for revenge and personal gain.

Backlash against TikTok arose from a social media post from a supposed Verizon employee. The source urged parents to delete “Tic Tock” from their children’s phones, due to concerns over privacy and human trafficking. USA Today contends that claims against TikTok are mostly false. Given that the post didn’t even spell the social media company’s name correctly, it likely has little merit.

Trump’s base overwhelmingly fears China due to a long-running smear campaign by the right. Latching on to yet another conspiracy theory, Trump uses TikTok and WeChat to show he’s tough on China. The U.S. continues to sell treasury bills to the Asian superpower. Selling treasury bills allows the Federal Reserve to issue money at low interest rates. Trump can’t get tough with China because they hold 4% of the United States’ debt.

Donald Trump’s wealth is mysterious; however, much of it derives from reality TV. Even more than real estate, Trump profited and acquired power using his presence as a reality TV star. His moves against China are more about creating reality television than sound foreign policy.

At the end of the day, our government and corporations spy on domestic end-users with little regulation and oversight, regardless of the Constitution. These domestic privacy concerns have much more impact on our lives. The China bogeyman also serves as a red herring, used to deflect attention from domestic surveillance in the United States.

Trump’s move against ByteDance is yet another act of conjuring bogeymen. A certain segment of American society seems to thrive on xenophobia, and Trump is more than willing to pour gasoline on the fire.

Did Trump Attempt to Ban TikTok and WeChat for Personal Gain?

Donald Trump’s pledge to ban TikTok and WeChat came with much warning. Enough warning so that Americans could install the app before it was banned. That’s just what I and others did, soon after declaration of the pending ban.

If Trump wanted to hurt ByteDance, the ban would have been much more of a surprise. It’s far more likely, especially given the low veracity of TikTok allegations, that he has something to gain. The pending ban encourages Americans to download the software before it’s unavailable. Using temporal scarcity, Trump seemingly made both social media apps more appealing. That’s precisely what happened, as Americans rushed to download the apps:

“There were roughly 247,000 downloads of TikTok in the US on Friday, up 12% from Thursday, according to preliminary estimates by app analytics firm Sensor Tower. TikTok US installs on Friday were down slightly by 3% week-over-week. WeChat had 10,000 US installs on Friday, up 150% from Thursday and 233% week-over-week. It was the most US downloads in a day that WeChat has seen since Oct. 7, 2019, according to Sensor Tower.”

Larry Ellison, Oracle’s co-founder and board chairman, is also an outspoken Trump supporter. Trump’s method of countering ByteDance clearly works in Ellison’s favor. By threatening to ban the apps, ByteDance’s user base increases, to the advantage of Oracle, Walmart, and Donald J. Trump. Regardless of any shady financial dealings, Trump did Ellison a huge favor and energized his base.

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