TikTok’s head of trust and safety for the US, Eric Han, is leaving the company on May 12th, according to two people familiar with the matter and an internal memo to employees I’ve seen.
His departure comes as TikTok is still trying to clench a deal to avoid a ban by the US government. Han has been leading TikTok’s safety teams in the US for several years, and in December, he was named the head of trust and safety for TikTok US Data Security (USDS), a separate entity created to convince the government that the app shouldn’t be banned.
In the memo to employees announcing his departure, Andy Bonillo, interim USDS general manager, said he will be “stepping in to lead USDS T&S on an interim basis” until “we identify Eric’s replacement for the longer term.” Bonillo’s title already says “interim” because the US government has yet to approve TikTok’s USDS proposal and would ultimately have the final say on who runs it.
“Over the past four years, Eric helped safeguard our U.S. community through an incredible stage of growth,” Bonillo said in the memo. “We remain dedicated to upholding our commitments to the TikTok community - both in the U.S. and around the world - as we continue to invest in trust and safety as a cornerstone of those efforts.”
After this story was published, TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan emailed me to say that Han’s role specifically focused on the “compliance, safety strategies, and moderation for content involving US users’ private data.” The implication is that he had little to no oversight of, say, the trust and safety efforts for TikTok’s video recommendations in the US, despite the company saying in December that he was leading the company’s US legal policy and threat intelligence teams in his new role.
“Outside USDS, TikTok’s global Trust and Safety team oversees the platform’s safety policies, processes, and systems for our global community, including the US,” Shanahan wrote in the email. “TikTok’s Head of Trust and Safety is based in Dublin with leaders across the US, Ireland, and Singapore. Our global Trust and Safety team develops global safety policies for the platform and oversees moderation of content that does not involve US users’ private data.”
TikTok’s fate in the US feels as uncertain as ever right now, with states like Montana trying to ban the app and the bipartisan RESTRICT Act making its way through Congress. The Biden administration has sent smoke signals indicating that TikTok’s USDS proposal isn’t enough to appease its national security concerns and that it will likely demand a full divestiture of TikTok from its Chinese parent company, ByteDance. The Chinese government obviously doesn’t like that idea, which, as the saying goes, puts TikTok between a rock and a hard place.
Update May 2nd, 6:13PM ET: Added response from TikTok spokesperson.