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The Senate is now considering a bipartisan bill that could force a sale of TikTok, with the House having already passed a similar measure and President Joe Biden throwing his support behind it. If the legislation is signed into law — and if it survives likely legal challenges — the question then becomes: Who would buy TikTok?

The bill would require the app’s Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell the social media platform within 165 days of the law going into effect or else the platform will be banned from US app stores.

But TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has said that the company wouldn’t go down without a fight: “We will continue to do all we can including exercising our legal rights to protect this amazing platform we have built with you,” he said in a video statement on Wednesday. The Chinese government has also expressed opposition to the bill and would have to approve any divestiture plan

TikTok’s US market has a roughly $100 billion valuation by some estimates, however, and investors believe that ByteDance could ultimately consider a sale as a last resort. 

The companies with the resources to buy TikTok outright probably can’t do so because of antitrust concerns, though. And if they can’t buy it, it’s not clear anybody else could pull together the money to make an alternative offer.

Still, some individual investors have expressed interest in putting together a group bid for the company. If any of the prospective buyers hold controlling stakes or seats on the board of competing tech firms, however, that could potentially raise antitrust concerns, said Abraham L. Wickelgren, a professor at the University of Texas Law School specializing in antitrust and law and economics.

Steven Mnuchin, the former US Treasury secretary during the Trump administration and current head of Liberty Strategic Capital, says he supports the bill and is gathering investors to buy TikTok. “It’s a great business and I’m going to put together a group to buy TikTok,” he told CNBC on Thursday. “This should be owned by US businesses. There’s no way that the Chinese would ever let a US company own something like this in China.”

Bobby Kotick, former CEO of the gaming titan Activision Blizzard, is also looking for potential partners in a deal, according to the Wall Street Journal. But it’s not clear who Mnuchin or Kotick’s partner investors could be or what their preexisting holdings are. 

“TikTok is a juggernaut — someone will want to buy it,” said Thomas Smale, CEO of the mergers and acquisitions advisory firm FE International. “They only have a few months to find a deal — obviously not an ideal situation for TikTok, but a great opportunity for investors looking to capitalize.”

Could Google or Meta buy TikTok?

Google parent company Alphabet and Meta are some of the only companies capable of single-handedly paying TikTok’s price tag at its current $100 billion valuation. 

Google CEO Sundar Pichar previously ruled out buying TikTok in 2020 when former President Donald Trump was trying to ban the app. (However, the company reportedly considered joining a group bid as a minority investor at the time.) Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg previously tried to buy ByteDance and TikTok’s predecessor Musical.ly, which later merged with TikTok to create the app as it’s known today, before he started decrying TikTok as a threat to American values and tech supremacy

But even if either company has an interest in buying TikTok, the acquisition would likely raise antitrust concerns. Both Meta and Google have sought to compete with TikTok in the short-form video space by introducing Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, respectively. 

“I think any potential acquisition by another social media company, such as Meta, would raise substantial antitrust concern, and is almost certain to draw intense regulatory scrutiny, particularly given the [Federal Trade Commission’s] willingness to look closely at concentration in technology industries,” said Tejas Narechania, faculty director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology. “On the other hand, I do think it is unlikely that a small company will have the resources to acquire TikTok.”

The FTC has brought antitrust cases against Meta in the past, including an unsuccessful attempt to block its acquisition of the virtual-reality startup Within Unlimited and a reopened one to force it to sell Instagram. (The first failed after a federal court found that the government had not provided sufficient evidence that consumers would have directly benefited had Meta entered the VR market itself instead of acquiring Within Unlimited, and in the second case, a federal judge decided that the government had not proven that Meta was operating a monopoly.) Google is also staring down two major antitrust cases brought by the Justice Department concerning its search engine and online ad business, both of which will likely be decided this year. 

Even if Google or Meta were allowed to go through with a deal, it could take longer than the 165-day period specified in the bill during which ByteDance would have to divest, Wickelgren said. That may force the company to focus on other buyers who can complete a sale more quickly, if the legislation currently being considered by Congress does become law.

“It’s possible that you could get a merger review of this magnitude in that time, but it’d be tough. They’d certainly be motivated to comply quickly,” he said. “There would probably be a push for a buyer with significantly less antitrust concerns where maybe they could get a deal approved by the DOJ or the FTC more quickly.”

Clarification, March 15, 1:10 pm ET: This story, originally published March 14, has been updated to clarify the state of the FTC’s suit against Meta over Instagram. That case was dismissed in 2021 but later permitted to be reopened.

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