Is the time up for TikTok?


To the editor:

Whether you like it or not, the government can forcibly take over companies at whim with the full force of the law behind it.

This power is called “eminent domain,” enshrined in the Fifth Amendment, which states “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

So President Trump can just take over TikTok and its $50 billion in U.S. operations market value, right? Not exactly. At least U.S. District Court judge Carl Nichols doesn’t seem to think so, which is why he put an injunction on the TikTok ban that President Trump activated Sept. 20.

So whose side is the law actually on? Although it is clear cut on paper, in practice, this seems to be a gray area. There are precedents for the federal government undoing done deals and forcing foreign companies to sell off their shares. President George H.W. Bush did that with the China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corp., in 1990, and President Barack Obama did that with Ralls Corp., in 2012.

Both were Chinese companies that were considered national security threats. But neither are a parallel to TikTok, which has 6,500 employees, nearly 2 billion customers, and a mammoth $75 billion global market value. Bringing TikTok down would mean bringing all those people down with it.

Secondly, social media apps aren’t exactly physical shops the government can bulldoze to smithereens. The website will still be there after the ban. People in the United States just wouldn’t be able to use it — which constitutes a gross violation of people’s First Amendment rights, which courts wouldn’t allow.

At best, this is what might happen. TikTok might be forced to close its physical offices in the United States, but the website and the app will continue to be in use over here.

All things said, the fact remains that on April 10, 2018, TikTok China announced that it would give preference to Chinese Communist Party members in its hiring, and increase its censors from 6,000 to 10,000 employees.

How can such foreign influence be counteracted here in the United States legally? The easy answer is to come up with better local companies, and the onus for that is tech startups.

But for the lack of proper legislation, entrepreneurs can’t even find out if their investment is legal or not until they have already invested their money.

This is not a good environment for business as it detracts investors from putting money into ventures, given their legal risks and uncertainty.

What the government can do is come up with more robust blanket legislation, instead of resorting to whimsical executive orders on a case-by-case basis.

TikTok is not alone. Gay dating app Grindr and messaging app WeChat also have been subjected to such “bans.” To avoid more debacles like this in the future, lawmakers should look to formulating air-tight legislation so that every time such a thing happens, they don’t have to rely on presidential overreach and the long judicial review that follows.

S.M. Salam

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S.M. Salam,