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- President Trump had a heated battle trying to ban TikTok from the US that is likely now over as his administration has agreed a delay to a lawsuit over it until after he leaves office.
- TikTok launched legal action against the Trump administration over the executive order banning it. On Tuesday both parties extended a filing deadline from January 19 to February, when Joe Biden will be president.
- Experts say this extension signals the bid to ban it is over, as Biden is far less likely to fight for it.
- Trump initially ordered the ban in August, when he was in the middle of his unsuccessful bit to be re-elected.
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President Trump’s months-long fight to ban TikTok looks set to end in failure.
His administration has agreed to extend the timetable for a lawsuit beyond the point when Trump is due to leave office, a move that passes the issue to President-elect Joe Biden, who, experts say, is unlikely to fight for it.
TikTok filed its suit in September to stop Trump’s executive order banning further downloads of the app he signed while campaigning for re-election. Trump claimed TikTok’s ties to China threatened national security.
On Tuesday, both sides agreed to extend the deadline for filing documents to February 18. The previous deadline was January 19, the day before Joe Biden will succeed Trump as president of the United States.
Experts close to decision makers in Washington think this signals the end of the suit, saying they doubt Biden’s administration – which can rescind Trump’s executive order – will be determined to fight for a ban.
Dr Steven Buckley of the University of West of England, who studies US politics and its interactions with technology, says it’s “highly unlikely” the new administration “will pursue further direct action against TikTok specifically”.
He says the lawsuit “reflects a trend in Trump’s approach to the tech and media business in that he will threaten to sue, make a lot of noise about it and then, when people are no longer paying attention, withdraw.”
“The TikTok ban was a reactionary, poorly considered policy decision,” agrees Billy Easley II, who works on tech policy at Americans for Prosperity, a Washington think tank. He adds it was “no surprise” a US court halted Trump’s ban in September just before it was due to take effect.
Easley adds that – without Trump in the White House – there will be little appetite to crack down on TikTok. “The Biden administration will have huge questions it has to answer regarding US-China affairs and tech policy,” says Easley. “I doubt TikTok will be at the top of their list.”
It’s a long list. Anupam Chander, professor of law and technology at Georgetown University, warns of the threat of the Schrems II judgement by the European Union. This places more stringent requirements on companies transferring EU citizens’ data outside the bloc. Chander calls it an “immediate crisis” for American tech.
Whomever Joe Biden appoints to oversee tech policy will also have to reckon with the long-term impacts of the moves social media platforms have made to limit how far hate speech can go on their apps.
Biden’s administration will also wrestle with Section 230, a 25-year-old piece of legislation that social media companies invoke to argue they are not responsible for what users post on their platforms.
The deadly attack on the US Capitol earlier this month, which spilled out from a protest organised and amplified on social media, intensified that debate.
TikTok, which declined to comment on Trump’s lawsuit that is, for now, is ongoing, is part of all of this.
Dr Buckley adds: “I can see a situation where TikTok gets folded into the larger discussion on Capitol Hill around how big tech is influencing society.”