TikTok’s CEO: I Didn’t Sign Up for This Shit

Photo: Damian Dovarganes, AP
Photo: Damian Dovarganes, AP

Four months ago, Kevin Mayer was running Disney+ and only had to worry about cashing checks. But in May he decided to take a giant leap and become the CEO of social media behemoth TikTok. In his short tenure, all hell broke loose at the company, and on Wednesday, Mayer informed employees that he’d be stepping down.

In an email to his staff, which a TikTok spokesperson provided to Gizmodo, Mayer wrote:

In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for. Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company.

Not my job, not my problem. Simple as that.

Mayer stressed that he believes the company has a bright future ahead, just a bright future that doesn’t include him. In a statement on the CEO’s departure, TikTok 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.”

When the 58-year-old CEO was brought on by TikTok in the spring, the company was already embroiled in a vague controversy over national security concerns. Mayer was considered an all-American face with a squeaky clean Disney background who was ready to give the company a new image. Politicians in the US government on both sides of the aisle had already begun to express concerns over the social media network’s Chinese ownership. The argument has primarily revolved around the app’s data collection practices which are fairly standard for a social media company — that is to say, they’re invasive and heavy-handed. Critics have increasingly worried that the Chinese government can order TikTok to funnel data into the hands of the CCP.

The fact that a ton of our technology comes from China and that our personal data can find its way to the Chinese government through a myriad of other ways has not stopped TikTok from becoming the most prominent symbol of America’s cold war on Chinese tech.

The pressures all came to a head earlier this month when President Trump issued an executive order that gave TikTok’s parent company ByteDance 90 days to sell or spin-off the video app’s US operations. “There is credible evidence that leads me to believe that ByteDance … might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States,” Trump said.

In the meantime, US-based tech companies like Microsoft and Oracle have rushed in to become the new owner of the social media golden goose. Like everything else in the TikTok saga, the sale process has been a shitshow.

Now TikTok is on the hunt for a new owner and a new CEO who has a better idea of what they’re getting themselves into. A spokesperson for the company said that Vanessa Pappas, general manager of TikTok in North America, will take over as the interim global head of the company.