Now that what had once looked like a plausible career risk has transformed into a geopolitical minefield, TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer, who left Disney earlier this year to take the reins at the social media upstart, has announced his resignation.
Instead of offering up boilerplate about “spending more time with family”, Mayer acknowledged in a letter to staff that the political environment had made his job untenable.
In a message sent on Wednesday to staff at TikTok, Mayer said as the political environment has “sharply changed,” he has reflected on what kind of corporate restructuring may be coming for the company, concluding that it was best for him to depart.
“I want to be clear that this decision has nothing to do with the company, what I see for our future, or the belief I have in what we are building,” Mayer wrote in his message, which TikTok shared with NPR.
“I understand that the role that I signed up for — including running TikTok globally — will look very different as a result of the US Administration’s action to push for a sell off of the US business,” Mayer said.
Without direct knowledge, nobody can say for certain what kind of pressure Mayer was under, but with the Trump Administration pressuring ByteDance to sell TikTok to a US buyer – and Beijing urging the company to resist – we’re almost surprised that it took him this long.
Of course, his departure doesn’t exactly bode well for the prospects of a deal. Mayer was brought in earlier this year in an effort by ByteDance to placate US regulators and show them that California-based TikTok really was walled off from the rest of China-centered ByteDance (the company is now trying to move the headquarters to London from California, though some British lawmakers are resisting the move).
Trump has signed two executive order pertaining to TikTok, both of which essentially bar American companies from dealing with the social media giant and its owner unless the business is sold to an American company.
Trump’s first order, signed on Aug. 6, outlaws business transactions between American citizens and ByteDance, a move that the Trump administration says arose out of concern for national security. The order would effectively ban TikTok from the US, starting a countdown clock that would expire 45 days after the order was signed.
In the second executive order, Trump signed on Aug. 14, TikTok was ordered to sell all of its US assets within 90 days, which extended the countdown to doomsday. TikTok is also being sued in the US for allegedly stealing data from minors, something that federal regulators have also taken an interest in.
However, despite the horrible optics of his departure, Mayer assured employees that a resolution to TikTok’s predicament would be announced “very soon”, and that its future is “incredibly bright.”
In a statement, TikTok said: “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. We thank him for his time at the company and wish him well.”