A federal judge has preliminarily blocked the Trump administration’s ban on TikTok, which has been scheduled to take effect Nov. 12.
The case was brought by three TikTok creators, who argued that President Trump’s executive order directing a complete U.S. ban on the Chinese-owned short-form video app infringed their First Amendment rights to free expression. The White House has claimed TikTok, because of its ties to China, represents a national security threat.
In the ruling Friday granting a preliminary injunction to halt the Nov. 12 ban, District Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania wrote that the plaintiffs “have demonstrated a clear likelihood of irreparable harm.” She also found that the U.S. government’s “own descriptions of the national security threat posed by the TikTok app are phrased in the hypothetical” and therefore she could not find that “the risk presented by the government outweighs the public interest in enjoining” the ban.
The decision comes after a separate Sept. 28 ruling by a federal judge blocking the White House’s ban on TikTok downloads in the U.S. — just hours before that was to go into effect. In that case, which was brought by TikTok, the judge ruled that the Trump administration “likely exceeded the lawful bounds” of the powers afforded to the president under the the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The DOJ has appealed that decision.
The three TikTok creators in the Pennsylvania case — Douglas Marland, Cosette Rinab and Alec Chambers — filed suit against Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Sept. 18. They argued that because of the Nov. 12 ban, they would suffer irreparable harm based on the deprivation of their First Amendment rights.
TikTok is used by over 100 million users in the U.S. alone and 50 million use it daily, according to the lawsuit. The ban would eliminate the creators’ ability to earn money through TikTok, they argued: Rinab said she creates videos for fashion brands and other companies and earns between $5,000 and $10,000 per video, while Chambers earned $12,000 for promoting the Extra gum brand in a TikTok video.
The Commerce Department previously issued the ban barring American companies from doing business with TikTok, which is owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance, as of Nov. 12. That would be rescinded if ByteDance is able to close a deal to transfer control of TikTok to American owners, including Oracle and Walmart. There’s been no update on the status of that initial agreement, which must be approved by both U.S. and Chinese governments.
In a statement about Friday’s ruling, TikTok’s interim global head Vanessa Pappas said, “We are deeply moved by the outpouring of support from our creators, who have worked to protect their rights to expression, their careers and to help small businesses, particularly during the pandemic. We stand behind our community as they share their voices, and we are committed to continuing to provide a home for them to do so.”
Ambika Kumar Doran of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, who is lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “We are pleased that the judge has halted this ban, which exceeds the President’s authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, namely portions of the Act that reflect our nation’s deep commitment to free speech.”
In mid-September, ByteDance, Oracle, Walmart and ByteDance’s investors reached a tentative pact for the creation of TikTok Global — reportedly valuing the app company at up to $60 billion — that the parties believed would satisfy both American and Chinese authorities. The new U.S.-based TikTok Global would “pay more than $5 billion in new tax dollars to the U.S. Treasury,” according to a joint statement from Oracle and Walmart. The company’s security and user data would be overseen by Oracle and the app would run on its cloud infrastructure. That preliminary agreement received Trump “blessing” but as of now the deal is not yet officially done.