Le Figaro: Why the owner of OM is bidding for Tik Tok in the United States

Exterior of the Orange Vélodrome in Marseille, France

May 15 Le figaro Ingrid vergara

American Frank McCourt is putting together a consortium of investors to make a bid for the network’s US operations if ByteDance is forced to sell.

On this side of the Atlantic, billionaire Frank McCourt is best known to football fans as the owner of OM since 2016. Descended from a family of entrepreneurs, the chairman of McCourt Global heads a group that combines activities in real estate, sport, technology, media and private equity. On the other side of the Atlantic, his concern about the excesses of the Internet has also been public knowledge for several years. He has launched and injected 500 million dollars into an initiative called Project Liberty with the stated ambition of “building a healthier Internet” than the current one, which he considers “broken”. A proponent of a decentralised Internet, his stated aim is to “transform the Internet with a new, fair technological infrastructure and rebuild social media in a way that allows users to own and control their personal data”.

It is in this context and through this project that he announced on Wednesday that he would make an offer in due course to buy TikTok’s US operations. This is the first publicly declared bid since President Joe Biden signed a law in April requiring the Chinese group ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, to sell its social network to an American buyer within a year, or risk seeing the TikTok application banned from the AppStore and GoogleStore in the United States.

Seizing the opportunity

This is not yet a formal offer. “Project Liberty is organising a consortium to buy TikTok. We’re still in the early stages, because there are still a lot of steps to be clarified in the process, particularly as regards the exact scope of the activities to be sold, but we want to be ready when all this becomes very concrete”, explains Tomicah Tilleman, who has been running Project Liberty since the beginning of the year.

The sale process is still a long way off. Not only will ByteDance be challenging US law in court, but it has also indicated that it has no intention of selling, whatever the consequences.

But Frank McCourt’s camp, which is in talks with US parliamentarians, is preparing to seize the possible opportunity. “We said to ourselves that this was the opportunity of a lifetime, and that it was the right time to build a platform aligned with our vision of the Internet, so as to enable users to regain control over their personal data”, continues Tomicah Tilleman. To do this, “we brought together a group of financial investors, civil society activists and leaders who support our approach and recognise the need to build a new model for this type of platform”, he adds.

They include Guggenheim Securities, the investment banking and capital markets arm of Guggenheim Partners, and Kirkland & Ellis, one of the world’s largest law firms, as well as well-known figures such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the main inventor of the World Wide Web, and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of “The Anxious Generation”.

“Significant financial transaction”

It’s too early to talk about a price, because we don’t yet know the exact scope of such a sale,” says Tomicah Tilleman. But we are aware that it will be a substantial financial transaction, and we will be ready when the time comes”. Several experts have put forward the figure of 100 billion dollars to buy the social network.

The Project Liberty team wants to reorganise the platform in order to avoid the current excesses, such as the polarisation of opinions, the spread of disinformation and the amplification of hate speech, all of which are common to all the current models of major social networks. There are some very good things about the TikTok platform as it currently operates, with a lot of dynamism and a very effective interface, and we want to keep all that,” stresses Tomicah Tilleman. But we think the structure and model need to be improved to give more power and value back to the TikTok community”.

Decentralized protocol

The idea of making an offer emerged even before the law was passed, when political discussions began to crystallise around this sales option. “We are approaching this offer in a very different way, with motivations that are not those of other players to perpetuate TikTok’s existing business model. We want to put users back at the heart of the project,” insists Tomicah Tilleman. “There is a real need to adopt a new framework. We want to follow three principles: giving power back to users, having better governance of the platform to avoid the current pitfalls, which range from manipulation to data exploitation, and distributing more value to the community, particularly for content creators. This is really key to our project”.

To do this, the consortium wants to rely in particular on the decentralized and open-source protocol developed as part of Project Liberty, which is partly based on blockchain (DSNP for “decentralized social networking protocol”).

“We can, and must, do more to safeguard the health and well-being of our children, families, democracy and society. We see this potential acquisition as an incredible opportunity to catalyze an alternative to the current tech model that has colonized the internet” said Frank McCourt in a statement.

Read the original article in French on Le Figaro’s website. Learn more about the bid on Project Liberty’s website.

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