Will America be better off if an American owns TikTok? (Illustration by The Free Press, photos via Getty Images)

The Best Buyer for TikTok

As U.S. buyers assemble, there’s only one family we should trust to own the app, writes River Page.

TikTok could be “harming vulnerable Americans” or exposing our democracy to “covert foreign influence.” So say supporters of the bill President Biden signed yesterday, which requires TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell the social media app to an American buyer within the next nine months, or else face a ban. The federal court blocked Trump’s attempt to ban the app in 2020, and TikTok has promised it will challenge this new law as well. But in case the Democrats have more luck, it’s worth asking: Who will buy TikTok? 

And: Would any of them actually use this great power for the good of America?

Last month, Donald Trump’s treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin said he was assembling a team to buy the beleaguered app, but this doesn’t seem like a great outcome for Biden. A prominent Republican owning one of the country’s most popular social media apps might not be great for the Democrats’ election chances. Also, Mr. Mnuchin was an executive producer for Suicide Squad. Does that sound like a man you can trust to make quality video content? (Shark Tank investor Kevin O’Leary has also expressed interest in buying TikTok, but he is Canadian. Moving on.) 

Back in 2020, during Trump’s campaign against TikTok, the multinational tech conglomerate Oracle formed an alliance with Walmart that attempted to buy the app before its owner prevailed in court. They might resurrect the alliance, but again, this isn’t an ideal outcome for America. Around 70–80 percent of Walmart products are made in China. Biden could be forcing TikTok into the hands of a company whose entire business model relies on access to the Chinese labor market. Not great in terms of “covert foreign influence.” There’s also a possibility that the entire app just becomes an ad for Walmart. Would Target be shadowbanned?

Oracle, meanwhile, was accused in 2022 of using a “surveillance machine” to gather—and sell—the personal data of five billion people. That’s five times the number of people on TikTok.

The CEO of video-game giant Activision has also expressed interest. As the makers of games like World of Warcraft, they are probably the only company who could make TikTok more addictive, which would be great for shareholders, but possibly grind our civilization to a halt. I don’t love that idea, nor do I love the idea of Microsoft buying TikTok, something they have tried and failed to do before. Seems like a long con to force us to use Bing, and I, for one, won’t stand for it. 

So, who should buy TikTok? To my mind, there is only one answer: the Kardashian Clan, a coven of Armenian witches (plus Caitlyn Jenner) who have kept America under their spell since the George W. Bush administration. Nobody understands social media better. The aesthetics would be immaculate, the product placements profitable, and the politics confusing. Worried about the woke left or the far right taking over social media and censoring people? A Republican transgender lesbian who doesn’t support gay marriage will be on the board, covering all of the bases in a way that infuriates everyone on every side equally. That’s what this country deserves, and needs. KTok now, KTok forever. 

River Page is a writer on tech and culture. Follow him on X @river_is_nice.

For more on this subject, read Jonathan Haidt’s essay, “Smartphones Rewired Childhood. Here’s How to Fix It.” And for more sharp takes on technology, subscribe to The Free Press:

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