A federal judge in Washington will decide later on Sunday whether to block a Trump administration order banning Apple and Google from offering TikTok for download.
US district judge Carl Nichols said after a 90-minute Sunday morning hearing that he planned to issue a public order before the end of the day.
The US commerce department TikTok app store ban is set to take effect at 11.59pm ET. John E Hall, a lawyer for the Chinese-owned short video-sharing app, argued during the hearing the ban was “unprecedented” and “irrational”.
“If that prohibition goes into effect at midnight, the consequences immediately are grave,'” Hall said, adding that at a time when a free exchange of ideas is necessary heading into a polarized election, “It would be no different than the government locking the doors to a public forum, roping off that town square.”
The judge was reviewing Trump administration claims that Chinese-owned TikTok poses a national security threat, along with the company’s denials and its claims that even a temporary ban could do irreparable harm.
TikTok, owned by ByteDance, said in its initial petition even a temporary ban would “inflict devastating and irreparable harm”.
“Until the administration’s intervention, TikTok was one of the fastest-growing apps in the United States, and its continued rapid growth is necessary to maintain its competitive market position,” TikTok argued.
TikTok has an estimated 100 million users in the US and 700 million worldwide, making it one of the largest operators in the social media space.
A ban would not only lead to lost revenue but also inflict “extraordinary harm to [TikTok’s] reputation and goodwill, making it unlikely that these relationships could be salvaged even if the ban is later lifted,” company lawyers argued.
A ban “will cause our user base to stagnate and then precipitously decline”, the interim TikTok head, Vanessa Pappas said, noting that until 1 July, when rumours of a ban began circulating, TikTok was adding about 424,000 new US users each day.
The TikTok petition also speculated that Trump was retaliating because of reports critics used the app to snatch up tickets to a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to which they had no intention of going – an event that embarrassed the president, with far fewer people in attendance than expected.
Nichols told a telephone hearing on Thursday he disagreed with government lawyers’ claims that the ban, which would not immediately prevent usage of TikTok but prevent downloads by new users, “merely preserves the status quo”.
On Saturday, a judge in Pennsylvania rejected a request by three TikTok content creators who asked her to temporarily block the Sunday night ban on Apple and Google app stores offering downloads of TikTok.
The content creators argued they would “lose access to tens of thousands of potential viewers and creators every month, an effect amplified by the looming threat to close TikTok altogether”.
The judge ruled that the ban was “undoubtedly an inconvenience” but said “they will still be able to create, publish and share content for their millions of current followers”.
Analysts also pointed out that any ban could prevent users from downloading updates and security patches for TikTok.
Earlier this month, Trump cited national security concerns and issued orders to ban both TikTok and the popular Chinese app WeChat, which has been put on hold in a separate court case in California.
The TikTok order stops short of a full ban until 12 November, giving ByteDance time to conclude a deal to transfer ownership of the app.
A tentative deal unveiled last weekend would make Silicon Valley giant Oracle the technology partner for TikTok and a stakeholder in a new entity to be known as TikTok Global.
The status of the deal, which would include investment from US retail giant Walmart, remained unclear as the parties awaited word on whether it would win approval in Beijing.