Kevin Mayer announced his resignation as CEO of TikTok on Thursday morning. This decision is motivated by the increasing scrutiny of the US Administration, which has threatened to veto the use of the platform within the country. The executive had been appointed less than four months ago, becoming the first American to lead a large Chinese technology company, a move with which ByteDance – its parent company – sought to appease the authorities’ mistrust of the short video platform.
“In recent weeks, as the political environment changed abruptly, I have reflected on the demands of structural corporate changes, and what that means for the global position I accepted,” Mayer said in a text shared with the TikTok employees. “In this context, and while we wait to reach a resolution soon, I want to let you know that with great regret I have decided to leave the company.”
After months of warnings, linked to the security of its users’ data and its content policy – after restricting access to censored topics in China such as the mass incarceration of Uighurs in Xinjiang or the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong -; Donald Trump signed an executive order against him three weeks ago. This document prohibits US companies from transacting with TikTok, as well as with the Chinese Tencent, in order to protect US “national security, economy and foreign policy.” Rising tension increased this week when the network Chinese social media filed a lawsuit against the United States Government for the pressure it exerts against the platform.
TikTok hired Mayer in mid-May. It put him at the forefront of business development and jumped into new areas, like music and video games. The executive had been one of the executors of Disney’s expansion in the last decade and last year he led the launch of Disney +, the platform with which the organization has made its way into the streaming sector. He was in the pools to succeed Bob Iger at the head of the largest studio in Hollywood, but it was Bob Chapek who ended up taking the duck to the water.
“I was happy with my job at Disney,” Mayer said on the day of his departure, “but the dimension of this opportunity was something that I could not pass up.” In addition to his responsibilities as CEO of TikTok, Mayer also assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer for ByteDance. “We are aware that the political dynamics of the past few months have significantly changed the scope of Kevin’s position going forward, and we fully respect his decision,” the company said in a statement.
TikTok has been crowned as the first Chinese platform to succeed globally. Its popularity has grown at full speed in recent years to become the most downloaded app in the world, ahead of giants such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Its monthly active users went from 55 million in January 2018 to 2,000 in August this year, 100 of them in the United States; according to official figures revealed by the company itself in its complaint against the veto of the US Administration.
The exact nature of the US restrictions will not be known until they go into effect. In mid-September, the established period of 45 days runs out. Several companies, including Microsoft together with Walmart, have begun negotiations with ByteDance to take over the platform’s operations in the US and other Western countries, an exit that today seems the most likely.