The plan to force TikTok US business to be divested could be a ruse for the US government and tech giants including Facebook to take down the short video platform and allow Facebook to fill the void, industry insiders told the Global Times Tuesday.
US President Donald Trump said Monday that TikTok would be banned in the US unless it is gobbled up by Microsoft or another “very American” company by September 15, and suggested the US Treasury should get a big cut of the proceeds.
“The buyout plan could be just a ruse under which the US government and capital behind US tech giants have conspired, that is to oust TikTok from the US market completely”, Richard Ma, an internet industry insider, told the Global Times Tuesday.
“As one of the promoters that might be deeply involved in the play to take down TikTok, Facebook sits behind the scenes witnessing the “death threat” that the US government has issued to TikTok, and then will take the initiative to grab its market share when TikTok loses its users”, Ma said.
Facebook has now provided financial rewards to TikTok content creators to attract them to its own short-form video feature Reels, which is tied to Instagram which it also owns. Meanwhile, TikTok content creators are actively looking for alternatives to reduce their own risks, media reports said.
Wang Chao, founder of the Wenyuan Institute for Politics and Economics, a Beijing-based think tank, told the Global Times that given the indecent means Facebook has pursued to crack down on its rivals then ultimately offering to buy them out, it intends to gobble up TikTok as well.
Facebook had over 2.6 billion monthly active users as of the first quarter of 2020, while TikTok has surpassed 2 billion global downloads across iOS and Android devices.
“But for [TikTok owner] ByteDance, it certainly won’t let its good asset fall into hands of its competitors”, Wang said, adding that if the buyout goes ahead, the likely US buyer will be Microsoft.
Microsoft said in a statement Sunday that the company will move quickly on discussions with ByteDance in a matter of weeks, and in any event will complete these discussions no later than 15 September.
There is currently no law in the US that the government could cite to stop its citizens from using any app, but the US government could resort to endless reviews and investigations targeting a specific firm, which could be dragged down in the process, Ma said.
In an internal letter signed Tuesday by Zhang Yiming, founder and CEO of the Beijing-based ByteDance, Zhang said that the focus of current problem is not that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) forced the sale of TikTok’s US business to US companies on the grounds that Musical.ly acquisitions endangered national security.
“Its real purpose is a complete ban”, Zhang said.
Musical.ly, a teen-focused lip-syncing app, was acquired by ByteDance in November 2017. The CFIUS investigation on the purchase is still under way.
This article has been published in cooperation with the Global Times.