TikTok’s CEO Kevin Mayer has called it quits following the intense pressure on the video app from Washington. The US president Donald Trump has in recent weeks, taken steps to force TikTok to sever every tie with Beijing, including disassociating itself from its Chinese-based owner, ByteDance.
Mayer said he made his decision after reflecting on what the recent development will mean for his role as a global leader of TikTok.
“In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for.
“Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company,” he said in a note shared with employees.
Mayer was hired in May to lead the global operations of ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company. It was part of TikTok’s plan to curtail the pressure from the White House. Hiring Mayer was supposed to quell the belief that the short video app is beholden to China, as he is an American based in the United States.
But shortly after he joined ByteDance, Washington officials zeroed in on TikTok. The app’s biggest threat came earlier this month when Trump signed executive order to block the company’s operations in the US if ByteDance doesn’t sell to an American company in 45 days.
In its push to stay alive in the US, TikTok has welcomed offers from Microsoft, Oracle and Twitter, in a deal put around $30 billion to $50 billion. The company has also filed a suit challenging the Trump’s administration, alleging it didn’t follow due process in its executive order.
ByteDance had contemplated moving its headquarters from China to ease US’ nervousness over the possibility of Beijing harvesting private data of American users of TikTok. Though the app has no data center in China, the American government is wary that having data centers outside the US while ByteDance remains TikTok’s parent company, makes its national security vulnerable.
The recent turn of events has affected a lot of things for TikTok, including Mayer’s decision to resign. Zhang Yiming, the founder and chief executive of ByteDance, said in a note on Wednesday to employees that Mayer joined the company in arguably its most challenging time. He said he understood how Mayer’s global role could be affected given that he was based in the United States.
India was the first country to ban TikTok among other Chinese apps, following a border conflict with China in June. Zhang said ByteDance is working to resolve the crisis surrounding the video app, in and outside the US.
“I cannot get into details at this point, but I can assure you that we are developing solutions that will be in the interest of users, creators, partners and employees,” he said.
Mayer’s resignation apparently alters TikTok’s global operation plans, but the company said it understands his decision to call it quits, given the present circumstances.
“We appreciate that the political dynamics of the last few months have significantly changed what the scope of Kevin’s role would be going forward, and fully respect his decision,” the company said in a statement.
Vanessa Pappas, the head of TikTok’s North American operations, will take Mayer’s place as the interim global head of the company.
However, Mayer’s short-lived role in TikTok signals another development. The app’s defense line against the allegation that it is beholden to China has included the hiring of Mayer for a global lead role; his abrupt resignation suggests that ByteDance may have reached a deal for the sale of TikTok.
Sources said that TikTok is getting close to announcing a deal in the coming days. People familiar with the matter said Mayer planned to announce his resignation along with the sale agreement next week. But the information got leaked to Financial Times who reported his resignation first, forcing him to fast-forward the timing in order to address the news.
TiKTok has grown significantly around the world, recording more than 1.9 billion downloads and having millions of users in the United States. Mayer believes that its current ordeal will not affect its growth.
“Like all companies in our space, we face challenges, but I have tremendous confidence that we have a world-class security team in place working to make people on our platform safe, and an amazing global team that makes this such a unique, creative and inclusive platform,” he said.