(WSJ) TikTok Chief Executive Kevin Mayer said he is leaving the social-media platform after being on the job for about three months, as the company comes under increasing pressure from the White House over its ties to China.
In a letter to staff, Mr. Mayer said the political environment had sharply changed in recent weeks and the role of CEO at the hugely popular short-video app would be altered significantly after the expected sale of TikTok’s U.S. business.
The Trump administration has pushed TikTok’s owner, Chinese technology giant ByteDance Ltd., to sell its American operations after targeting the app over national-security concerns. On Aug. 6, President Trump gave Beijing-based ByteDance an ultimatum: find a U.S. buyer in 45 days or it would effectively be banned.
U.S. officials say they are concerned that TikTok could pass on data it collects from Americans streaming videos to China’s authoritarian government. TikTok has said it doesn’t share data with the Chinese government and wouldn’t do so if asked.
Zhang Yiming, the Beijing-based founder and chairman of ByteDance, sent an email to staff thanking Mr. Mayer for his contribution and saying he understood how political circumstances had led to the decision.
Mr. Zhang reassured employees that the company was “moving quickly to find resolutions to the issues that we face globally, particularly in the U.S. and India.”
Mr. Mayer, a longtime media executive who left Walt Disney Co. in May for TikTok, said he made the decision to step down after considering the corporate structural changes that would be required if the U.S. business was sold.
Vanessa Pappas, currently the U.S. general manager of the app, would serve as interim head of TikTok, he said in the note, a copy of which was seen by The Wall Street Journal.
“I understand that the role that I signed up for—including running TikTok globally—will look very different as a result of the U.S. administration’s action to push for a selloff of the U.S. business,” Mr. Mayer wrote. “I’ve always been globally focused in my work, and leading a global team that includes TikTok U.S. was a big draw for me.”
TikTok has been entangled in a high-profile technology battle between the U.S. and China since early July, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo first mentioned the U.S. government was looking into banning the app. Huawei Technologies Co. and Tencent Holdings ’ WeChat messaging app have also been dragged into the geopolitical spat, as the world’s two major economies clash on issues ranging from the origins of the coronavirus to trade.
The fate of TikTok, an app that shot to popularity with its videos of dancing and lip-syncing teenagers, has been the subject of media speculation in recent weeks. Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp. and Twitter Inc. have all been named as possible buyers of its operations in North America, Australia and New Zealand. TikTok has been downloaded more than two billion times since its launch, according to mobile-data research firm Sensor Tower.
Mr. Mayer’s departure shocked ByteDance’s staffers in China, several of whom told the Journal they hadn’t seen it coming.
Mr. Mayer, former head of the Disney+ streaming unit, was hired to take charge of ByteDance’s global expansion, including in its music and gaming businesses. His hiring had been viewed as a coup for ByteDance, and the seasoned media executive was expected to provide the operational expertise to help the app navigate an uncertain global regulatory environment for the Chinese startup.
A TikTok representative 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.”
Mr. Mayer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Mayer encountered some cultural clashes when he first came onboard and seemed to struggle with the fast pace at the startup, where staff eschewed email in favor of real-time conversations using chat platforms, a person familiar with the company said, though that wasn’t likely a major factor in his departure.
The Financial Times earlier reported Mr. Mayer’s intention to step down.
Source: Wall Street Journal by Liza Lin