Escalating tensions with Beijing, President Donald Trump threatened Friday to ban TikTok from operating in the U.S. over concerns about the social media platform’s ties with China.
“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he returned from Florida late Friday.
The president said he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order to ban the Chinese-owned company from the U.S. as soon as Saturday.
Trump’s threat comes as the administration is investigating whether the app’s parent company, ByteDance, is harvesting the data of millions of American users. The U.S. Navy last year urged service members to delete the app from government devices.
The president has long benefited from social media platforms – most notably Twitter and Facebook – but he has also pilloried those companies, accusing their executives of squelching conservative voices on their platforms.
The announcement comes weeks after Trump critics used TikTok to inflate expectations for turnout expected at the president’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a major embarrassment for the president’s campaign.
The threat comes at a moment of extremely frayed U.S. China relations, as the president has engaged in a months-long trade war with the country and has accused its leaders of allowing the coronavirus to spread into a pandemic. Tensions have been raised further by China’s crackdown on pro-democracy efforts in Hong Kong.
TikTok has previously said it doesn’t send any user-collected data to China.
Though the social media app is owned by a Chinese firm the company has said it is run by an American CEO. U.S. officials have raised concerns about the Chinese government tapping into personal data via Americans’ cellphones using such smart phone applications.
In addition, The New York Times reported that Microsoft is in talks to acquire TikTok.