Behind U.S. President Donald Trump's wrath against Chinese mobile apps, there might be Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's hand. A recent WSJ report claimed that Zuckerberg met Trump at a private dinner in late October 2020 and warned him about the emergence of Chinese apps as it could threaten American businesses like Facebook.
The tech billionaire even met Arkansas' Republic Senator Tom Cotton during that time and discussed the potential danger TikTok posed to Facebook in detail. A month after their discussion, Cotton along with New York's Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer demanded an inquiry into TikTok in a letter to the intelligence officials. And soon after, the government too began a national-security review while Trump started issuing threats of a potential ban on the app.
While the Coronavirus pandemic shifted the President's focus, he also used the opportunity to attack TikTok and other Chinese apps for their censorship. Earlier this month, he signed an executive order that demanded TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance to sell its U.S. business within 45 days or face a ban.
ByteDance and another Chinese giant Tencent, which owns WeChat, a popular messaging app, were contemplating legal action against the executive order. They are expected to sue Trump administration this week.
Before his meeting with the President, Zuckerberg gave a speech at Georgetown University in Washington that was themed on freedom of expression. In his speech, he mentioned about repressive societies and called out Beijing's censorship on platforms like TikTok.
"While our services, like WhatsApp, are used by protesters and activists everywhere due to strong encryption and privacy protections, on TikTok, the Chinese app growing quickly around the world, mentions of these protests are censored, even in the U.S.," Zuckerberg said.
While TikTok denied the allegations, it didn't hide its ire. In a statement, the social media platform took a direct aim at Facebook, calling it a "copycat" and said it was being targeted because of its Chinese origin despite being more successful.
"At TikTok, we welcome competition. But let's focus our energies on fair and open competition in service of our consumers, rather than maligning attacks by our competitor—namely Facebook—disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the U.S.," its Chief Executive Officer Kevin Mayer said in a blog post.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, Facebook has also launched an advocacy group named American Edge that has published ads commending U.S. tech companies for contributing to the country's economy besides cultural influence. In addition, the company has spent over $10 million in lobbying this year alone — more than any company — as per the Center for Responsive Politics. In the last two years, Facebook lobbyists have increased their presence after being ranked eighth among companies in 2018.
However, Facebook has denied discussing TikTok with the President. Facebook's spokesperson, Andy Stone said Zuckerberg's comments were on antitrust and regulatory threats. "Our view on China has been clear: we must compete. As Chinese companies and influence have been growing so has the risk of a global internet based on their values, as opposed to ours," Stone said in a statement.
Cotton didn't want to comment on WSJ's query while White House spokesperson said Trump administration "is committed to protecting the American people from all cyber-related threats to critical infrastructure, public health and safety, and our economic and national security."
Potential TikTok Ban Unwelcome
Despite his comments on TikTok's censorship, Zuckerberg in an employee meeting wasn't too happy with the executive order. He believed it would set a "bad long-term precedent". "It needs to be handled with the utmost care and gravity whatever the solution is. I am really worried. It could very well have long-term consequences in other countries around the world," he said.
It remains to be seen what happens to TikTok in the U.S. and if Microsoft, Oracle, or Twitter get their hands on $50 billion business. September 15 is the deadline for ByteDance to decide or the app faces a ban in the U.S.