Let’s Talk About What Biden Just Did With Trump’s TikTok Ban

(Photo illustration by Thiago Prudêncio / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Are TikTok’s White House Worries Ended?

The short answer is: no, not completely. President Biden signed a new executive order on Wednesday that repeals one of the two orders signed by President Trump against TikTok. But TikTok and its Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance are still facing an ongoing review of their business by the Treasury Department and a new initiative by the Biden administration to re-examine their computing and national security concerns.

As a former Trump official put it, “This will stop what President Trump instituted, but it won’t take TikTok off the hook.”

What happened on wednesday

Biden unveiled a new executive order last August that repealed one from Trump. The Trump regulation tasked the commerce and justice departments with implementing a ban on new downloads of the app, citing TikTok as a potential threat to national security. (The Trump administration said TikTok could share user data with the Chinese government; TikTok denied it.)

TikTok fought the order in court and won an injunction. The download ban never existed, but it has sparked significant unrest within the company and its intersecting community of users and celebrities.

But while Biden’s order overturns Trump’s, it also urges a number of federal agencies to begin fresh analysis of TikTok and its business practices. The Biden Ordinance instructs Minister of Commerce Gina Raimondo to prepare two reports on the handling of American user data and the security concerns of foreign apps within the next few months.

Are there any similarities between what Biden is doing – and what Trump has done?

Trump wanted to crack down on China, a very public election promise made in 2015. The new Biden ordinance signals that the new White House also wants to take a strong stance on the rival superpower: Given many pressing domestic concerns, Biden could let the matter go fall.

But Trump’s work against China and TikTok was chaotic. When he issued his executive order, it surprised some people in his own trading department by bypassing the usual process the department helped draft the order, according to several former trading insiders. To them, it seemed that Trump had decided TikTok was a threat, issued the order – and then expected Commerce to find the evidence to back the decision. Those within the trade who worked on the case expected to receive the documents and analysis the White House had used to put the order together, but it never arrived, a former trade leader says.

In contrast, Biden’s efforts seem to be starting out in a more organized manner, urging Raimondo and other high profile departments (state, defense, justice, and homeland security) to produce reports before reaching a conclusion about TikTok and what to do about it.

And where does the Treasury Department come into play?

Trump had two executive orders, and Biden is allowing one to remain in place. The remaining order calls on the United States Treasury Department and Foreign Investment Committee to review ByteDance’s original 2017 purchase of TikTok’s predecessor Musical.ly.

If this order continues, enforcement will be entirely in the hands of the Treasury Department, streamlining the process. Trump’s duplicate orders had complicated matters and sparked a turf war between departments – trade led by Wilbur Ross and Treasury Department led by Steve Mnuchin, leaders and authorities disagreed on how to deal with China, insiders say Ministry of Commerce.

Could TikTok be banned one day?

… yes, possibly. But while it was a tempting target for Trump, it certainly isn’t quite the same for Biden, who has no anti-Chinese voter base to appeal to.

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