TikTok owner ByteDance remains cautious as the video app faces a US ban, forcing the local team to take more aggressive action


The Chinese parent of Tick ​​tock has kept a safe distance from the problems facing its short-video app in the US, leaving the response to the local team and Singaporean CEO Chew Shou Zi as they face a possible legal battle against a forced sale a banaccording to people briefed on the matter.
Byte DanceTikTok's strategy is significantly different from that of four years ago, when then-US President Donald Trump tried to force a sale of TikTok to American investors. The Beijing-based company got involved immediately after its recently hired COO and TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer – who was poached from the Walt Disney Company – quit after just three months.

This time everything is different. TikTok's US team, led by Chew, is more experienced and resourceful. Opposition to a bill that would ban the popular app from Apple and Google's app stores has been far more aggressive.

As part of the restructuring, ByteDance is increasing the annual bonus for high-performing employees

According to a source familiar with the matter, ByteDance has almost entirely delegated the task of dealing with U.S. political pressure to the U.S. TikTok team. In recent weeks, ByteDance's only response to the saga has been a brief denial of a Wall Street Journal report that company co-founder Zhang Yiming had discussed selling TikTok to potential buyers.

Neither ByteDance nor TikTok responded to requests for comment on Friday.

TikTok has gone to great lengths to highlight its relevance to US users and retailers. This week, the company began running television ads with the hashtag #KeepTikTok in several states, including Pennsylvania, Nevada and Ohio. The campaign involves a diverse group of TikTok influencers and retailers discussing the importance of the app.

The move comes weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives voted A new bill was passed with an overwhelming majority This is intended to force ByteDance to divest TikTok – described as an “application controlled by a foreign adversary” – so that the app can continue its normal operations. TikTok also spent more than $100,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads in opposition to the bill, The New York Times reported, citing Meta Platforms' Ad Library.

Outside ads are just the latest front in a battle that began last month on the TikTok app itself, where the company sent push notifications to users urging them to call their members of Congress to urge them to oppose the bill voices.

These efforts are already showing some results. The bill that would block U.S. app stores from distributing TikTok in the country began to lose momentum as it reached the Senate, which has not set a timeline for considering the bill.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew leaves the Russell Senate Office Building after meeting with Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) on March 14 in Washington. Photo: TNS
The Senate must pass its own version of the bill and bring it into line with the House's version before sending it to President Joe Biden, who has indicated it will do so he will sign it into law when it reaches his desk.

TikTok's push to get users to call Congress is “generally very right,” said Thomas Liu, founder and CEO of consulting firm Policy Nexus. “In the United States, citizens have the 'right to petition' to convey their suggestions, problems or demands to their members of Congress, which is an essential part of the American political system, and members of Congress generally value the opinions and demands of theirs.” voters, taking into account the interests of the districts they represent.”

“However, the approach of sending in-app notifications could reinforce some existing concerns among some members of Congress, as some US politicians may believe that the app can technically influence public opinion,” he added. He said TikTok could achieve the same goal in other ways, such as through PR campaigns in traditional media or other social media platforms.

When TikTok faced a ban in 2020, TikTok ran TV ads but failed to directly attract its users. At this point, ByteDance commented on the issue at least four times in two months. It sued the Trump administration along with TikTok, making it clear that ByteDance would retain control TikTok Globala planning subsidiary jointly owned by Oracle and Walmart that wanted to avoid a ban to prove that the company wasn't, as Chinese netizens put it, “falling too quickly.”

Zhang, who was still chairman and CEO of ByteDance at the time, addressed the issue personally in an interview with US magazine The Atlantic, saying he was not a member of the Chinese Communist Party.

Since 2021, after handing over his roles to his college roommate and ByteDance co-founder Liang Rubo, Zhang has become significantly more media-shy. However, according to the Financial Times, he continues to have significant influence over key company decisions because he owns shares with special voting rights that give him control over the company, including TikTok. Neither Zhang nor Liang have commented publicly on the issue this year.

Chinese business newspaper Caixin reported that ByteDance would not sell TikTok, citing multiple sources familiar with the matter. It is “impossible for ByteDance to sell TikTok within 180 days” and “it is impossible for Zhang to divest,” Caixin reported.

A regulation passed in China in 2020, partly in response to the Trump administration's targeting of TikTok, would require government review of export technology such as TikTok's algorithms. That would make it even more difficult for ByteDance for sale.