Spotlight: U.S. users rally behind TikTok, WeChat amid Washington crackdown on China tech firms

Source: Xinhua| 2020-08-26 18:56:56|Editor: huaxia
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by Julia Pierrepont III, Huang Heng

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- In another unsettling and unprecedented move that has shocked both sides of the Pacific, the U.S. government could move to ban the use of China's leading communication, finance and entertainment apps -- WeChat and Tiktok -- in the country, causing an outpouring of protest from American businesses and app users.

"He's caused tremendous fear and hardship for many Americans and America-based businesses, not just Chinese businesses, with his attempt to capriciously deny access to WeChat and TikTok," historian, musicologist and author Kenneth Kubernick told Xinhua on Tuesday.

"His retaliation against WeChat and Tiktok puts entire industries in the U.S. at risk, especially in places like the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California, where they rely on access to those apps to run their businesses," said Kubernick.

Earlier this month, Trump cited the Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and issued executive orders banning any U.S. transactions with TikTok and WeChat, starting in 45 days.

TikTok, a Los Angeles-based tech firm filed a lawsuit over the executive order Monday, arguing that the executive order is a misuse of the IEEPA, authorizing the prohibition of activities that have not been found to be "an unusual and extraordinary threat" in this case.

TikTok said in its indictment that former presidents used the power authorized by the IEEPA to protect the country from threats from abroad, including terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but Trump's order seeks to use the IEEPA against a U.S. company with hundreds of employees across the country and to destroy an online community sharing video content by millions of Americans.

TikTok, with about 100 million American users, is a video-sharing, music and social networking service owned by China's giant Bytedance platform that specializes in user-made videos of three to 60 seconds.

Trump and some U.S. politicians have repeatedly speculated that TikTok posed a national security threat because it is owned by a Chinese company, though being unable to provide any evidence to support their allegations.

"We do not take suing the government lightly; however, we feel we have no choice but to take action to protect our rights, and the rights of our community and employees," the company said in its suit.

"Our more than 1,500 employees across the U.S. pour their hearts into building this platform every day," the company said, revealing that it intended to hire over 10,000 more U.S. workers in the next few years.

A head of a prominent Hollywood production company, who asked not to be named, said the ban against TikTok is riddled in revenge. He is "still upset over the American TikTok teens who were effective in torpedoing his Tulsa, Oklahoma rally in June," said the individual. "He doesn't want that to occur again during his presidential campaign, so he is illegally trying to use the apparatus of the office as president to block dissenters."

In June, some American started spreading on TikTok the idea of registering for free tickets with no intention of going, which led the Trump campaign to boast about more than a million people seeking tickets for the rally while only about 6,200 showed up, leaving the president speaking to a hollowed-out stadium.

"By attacking the immensely successful TikTok platform, Trump looks to kill two birds with one stone," he said. "Eliminate a possible attack on his campaign rallies and play to his base by attacking successful Chinese social media platforms."

American employees are also getting into the act as Patrick Ryan, an engineer used to work for Google and joined TikTok this March, also filed suit against the Trump administration on Monday. He said Trump's language was too broad, putting all U.S. TikTok employees at risk.

The ban "means that after Sept. 20, myself and 1,500 of my colleagues won't be able to receive a paycheck, because it will be illegal for the company to pay us. This is a step too far," Ryan's attorney Alexander Urbelis stated in a TikTok video posted to a GoFundMe campaign created to finance the suit.

"This is a lawsuit (which is) about protecting the wages and salaries of U.S. employees that're used to put food on the table and provide shelter for their families."

In a 23-page indictment acquired by Xinhua, Ryan accused Trump of unconstitutionally threatening the personal property and wages of TikTok employees, most of whom are U.S. citizens, by prohibiting "any transaction" with Bytedance while purposely neglecting a clear definition to "transaction."

The plaintiff called the order as a "conspiracy," saying it "creates a new and unknowable basis for 'conspiracy' that is not currently available under federal law."

Like TikTok, WeChat is also owned by a big Chinese tech firm -- Tencent, and is currently acknowledged as one the most robust and multi-purpose apps on the planet, used for everything from simple messaging, document handling, video calling, to secure purchasing and banking transactions.

Trump's threat to the app sent shock waves rippling through U.S. communities, many of whom rely on WeChat for business and personal communication with Chinese companies and relatives and use the service instead of cellphones or email to transact business.

Robert Sun, a Chinese American businessman in Los Angeles, said: "This is very shocking. Wechat is more than just a communication tool. We use it on a daily basis to connect with our families, friends, colleagues and business associates."

For many U.S. companies with business ties to China, particularly film and gaming companies, WeChat is the essential conduit for communication, marketing and transactions. Big U.S. firms are also speaking out against the move, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that Disney and Apple spoke directly to White House officials to voice their concerns.

"Banning them would cripple both economies even more," said Sun.

Like TikTok's employee, a nonprofit group called the WeChat Users Alliance filed a lawsuit last Friday in San Francisco's federal court seeking an injunction to stop Trump's ban from going into effect, arguing that it violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment and others.

"Attacking Chinese social media platforms that enjoy wide support in the U.S. is entirely counter-productive to trade relations with China and is harmful to Americans," said the president and CEO from Hollywood production company who requested anonymity.

"While there may be legitimate issues to discuss with China regarding the improvement of the U.S. trade deficit, bullying Chinese companies like TikTok and WeChat is neither a productive nor diplomatic manner by which to achieve improvements in U.S.-China relations and address trade concerns," he said, adding that the move was yet another in a long line of "personal vendettas" for Trump, nothing more.

"Donald conducts his presidency primarily using public relations stunts, because that's all he really knows how to do," Kubernick told Xinhua. "And his banning TikTok is just another stunt, but one that has very real economic consequences by putting thousands of U.S. employees out of work, which we can ill afford." Enditem