Trump’s TikTok battle heralds the ugly birth of a new splinternet

TikTok was conquering the world, until it became the victim of a new Cold War between China and Donald Trump, who wants it bought out – or shut down

Donald Trump was in no mood to compromise. “As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” he told a gaggle of reporters huddled in an aisle on Air Force One on a Friday evening in late July. Trump seemed impatient as he headed back to Washington after a day of fundraising in Florida, straining to act against a company he claimed was a grave national security threat. When would a ban happen, one journalist asked? “Essentially immediately,” he shot back. “I will sign the document tomorrow.”

Trump’s announcement capped a tough week for TikTok. A few days earlier, the company’s recently-appointed American chief executive Kevin Mayer had launched a forceful public defence of the short-video app, which was facing a maelstrom of accusations over its ties to China, owing to its Chinese parent company ByteDance. In an open letter, Mayer said that TikTok was committed to transparency and accountability, and painted the app as a boon to US competition at a time of growing focus on the monopoly powers of companies like Facebook.

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