Press Release

TiK Tok Tagged “A Weapon Of War” Calls For Its Ban

Palantir advisor Jacob Helberg and investor Vinod Khosla wrote an open letter to senators yesterday urging them to approve legislation that would compel Bytedance to surrender its ownership of TikTok in the United States.

TakeAway Points:

  • In an open letter to the U.S. Senate, prominent venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and Palantir advisor Jacob Helberg urged the body to approve the so-called TikTok prohibition measure.
  • Helberg and Khosla have frequently expressed their opinions on the threats that TikTok presents to the United States, calling it a “weapon of war.”
  • Helberg stated in a CNBC interview that “when national security is at issue,” the United States has a “long heritage” of taking action against specific firms.

The Call to Ban TikTok

Helberg and Khosla equated the law with long-standing prohibitions on foreign ownership of American media companies, branding the social media platform as “a weapon of war”.

“Would you let North Korea or Iran own a broadcast channel that 67% of teens spend almost two hours a day on?” the letter read.

Some critics have compared the ban to a bill of attainder, given that it singles out one company. In an interview with CNBC, Helberg said the comparison did not apply.

“We have a long tradition in American policymaking — sometimes we do target individual companies when national security is at stake,” Helberg said.

The House passed the bill in March with overwhelming support, requiring Bytedance to find a buyer for TikTok or risk being banned from the United States.

Users Voice Against the Bill

Bytedance is not sitting on the sidelines, however. The company mobilized its user base to oppose the House bill, urging its millions of users to call their congressional representatives and voice their opposition. The in-app notifications prompted a flood of phone calls that overwhelmed some congressional offices.

Helberg said the effort was a prime example of the risk TikTok posed. “It was a live demo of precisely the kinds of concerns that we have been trying to highlight to elected officials,” he told CNBC. “All of these concerns that were theoretical were highlighted in full Technicolor for everyone to see.”

Khosla is the founder of Khosla Ventures and a co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Helberg is a senior advisor at Palantir, an artificial intelligence firm that does extensive government contracting work, including with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Both are also deeply involved with the Hill and Valley Forum, a working group first convened in 2023 to combat the influence of the Chinese government and TikTok in the U.S. Hill and Valley is slated to reconvene in May.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has also been lobbying D.C. lawmakers against a ban, meeting with Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., in March.

TikTok Ban Debate Intensifies

Helberg stated that although the letter was intended for all senators, he hoped that Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Chuck Schumer of New York would pay particular attention. Cantwell is the Senate Commerce Committee chair, and Schumer is the majority leader of the Senate.

But TikTok has seemingly received apparent support from an unexpected source: former President Donald Trump. One week after Trump met with top Republican donor and Bytedance investor Jeff Yass, the former president indicated he was opposed to a TikTok ban, saying it would give too much advantage to Meta, which owns Instagram.

Helberg said that he didn’t think Trump was fully opposed to Khosla and his efforts. “If you look at his statements, he has expressed very strong concerns about bias and censorship against conservative voices online,” Helberg told CNBC. Trump is the presumptive 2024 Republican nominee for president.

China Oppose the Sale of TikTok

Nonetheless, Trump’s commentary, paired with opposition from China’s Foreign Ministry, has raised questions about whether a divestiture is even feasible. China has said that it is completely opposed to the sale of TikTok, which would require an export license from the government. That opposition, Khosla and Helberg wrote, “tells you what you need to know: TikTok is a ‘key political asset,’ not a commercial enterprise.”

Top investors, including former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, are among those circling the app, which would likely carry a price in the tens of billions of dollars.

When asked what the odds between a divestiture and a ban would be, Helberg demurred.

“If the Chinese Communist Party operates in good faith and lives up to its claims, a divestiture will happen in an orderly manner. There are lots of willing buyers in the United States.” he said.

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