Employees Say They’re Numb to Latest Threat

Estimated read time 4 min read

TikTok is facing the threat of a ban or forced sale — again.

The US House of Representatives voted Wednesday on a bill that would require its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to sell the US version of TikTok or see it pulled from app stores outright.

Since August 2020, when the Trump administration first tried to box out TikTok via executive order because of its owner’s ties to China, the company has faced an onslaught of attacks from state and federal politicians. These ban attempts haven’t stood up in court.

For US employees at TikTok and ByteDance who have been at the companies for a while, the constant political attacks are beginning to sound like the boy who cried wolf. “Ban TikTok” has served as good political fodder for speeches and debates, but bills that would actually remove the app from the US have had no teeth.

“I’ve been here a few years and have seen the threats and chatter come and go,” one staffer told Business Insider. They, along with the other TikTok and ByteDance employees in this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity. Their identities are known to BI.

“It doesn’t really impact me in my day-to-day work outside of just being a distraction, a cloud hanging over our heads,” the employee said.

The staffer said they felt “numb” to the ongoing threats. Others similarly said the mood inside the company hadn’t shifted much in recent weeks, even as TikTok began asking its users to call their political representatives to lobby against a US ban.

“The vibe at TikTok has been fairly business as usual,” a second employee told BI. “While there are some concerns, I think most of us are sort of used to it.”

Even if the House’s Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act is signed into law, TikTok employees have good reason to believe it won’t stick.

Other ban attempts, such as a 2023 Montana state law, have been struck down on First Amendment grounds. During a presidential-election year when the two leading candidates have shifted viewpoints on the app, TikTok’s 2025 fate feels even more ambiguous.

For current TikTok and ByteDance employees, it’s become increasingly difficult to understand which threats are real and which are political bluster. Many are too busy doing their day-to-day work to be fixated on DC rhetoric. And several say they mostly care about TikTok’s future in the context of protecting their own jobs.

“For my team, we’re so busy we don’t really think about it,” a third staffer told BI when asked about the House bill. “For employees, it’s really about caring about their own job security in the context of this. They want our internal teams to fight this to ensure their jobs are safe.”

A fourth staffer told BI that job security was a top concern because it was not a good time to be on the job market in tech.

The third staffer said that outside its recent court wins, TikTok’s popularity in the US — the company has said it has more than 170 million monthly users — might also shield the app from government intervention.

“If they do ban TikTok, I can imagine Congress’ approval rating dropping even more,” they said.

TikTok didn’t respond to a request for comment from BI on this story.

Regarding Wednesday’s House vote, the company said in a public statement that: “The bill was jammed through for one reason: it’s a ban. We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service.”

March 13, 2024: This story has been updated with a statement from TikTok.