TikTok Lobbyists Took Case Against Ban to Trump Campaign

TikTok lobbyists told Trump campaign officials that an all-out ban on the app could sour millions of voters against him in the November election, taking aim at one of the president’s top concerns, according to people familiar with the matter.

TikTok walked campaign officials through how the app works in detail and explained that the platform has 100 million U.S. users, many of whom are of voting age, said one of the people, all of whom asked not to be named because they weren’t unauthorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The recent briefings also pointed out that TikTok’s largest markets are key battleground states for the 2020 election, including Florida. The TikTok lobbyists also shared data on how young Trump supporters have grown increasingly active on the app, the person familiar said.

Videos with the #Trump2020 hashtag have notched 10.3 billion views on the app, compared to 2 billion views for #Biden2020.

After President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok last month, the app was flooded with videos of users crying and telling their friends to go out and vote against Trump in retaliation for taking aim at their digital hangout.

It’s unclear if the Trump campaign shared considerations about TikTok’s influence over voters with the president or administration officials. It couldn’t be determined whether these considerations affected deliberations about banning the app or negotiations between the Treasury Department, TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance Ltd. and Oracle Corp. to create a new global TikTok that would satisfy U.S. national security concerns.

Representatives for TikTok and the Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

ByteDance has been building up its U.S. lobbying muscle over the last year. In a matter of months, it’s amassed a Washington operation with at least three dozen staffers and a number of outside lobbyists with close ties to the Trump administration, including David Urban, a senior adviser to Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. Last quarter it spent a company record on federal lobbying, filings show.

The proposed Oracle deal, designed to create a ring-fenced version of TikTok to protect the data of U.S. citizens and prevent China from spying, would have Oracle, Walmart Inc. and venture capital investors holding a minority stake.

Despite indications in recent days that Trump was moving toward accepting the companies’ proposal, allowing them to avoid a ban, the U.S. Commerce Department on Friday said that it plans to expel TikTok from U.S. app stores by Sunday, but allowed the company until Nov. 12 to reach a final deal or face further restrictions on business in the U.S. Commerce said it could reverse the ban on TikTok’s video-streaming service if the company presents a deal that satisfies national security concerns.

Over the summer, thousands of young people organized through TikTok to flood the campaign’s app with bad reviews and prank Trump’s first post-shutdown campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At that time, Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for the Trump campaign, told Bloomberg News that “TikTok users don’t affect anything we do. What we do know is that the Chinese use TikTok to spy on its users.”

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