Home Tech News V Pappas steps down at TikTok as new executives are named

V Pappas steps down at TikTok as new executives are named

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TikTok’s chief operating officer, V Pappas, stepped down Thursday after five years helping to transform what was once an obscure short-video service into one of the world’s most popular apps, signaling a potentially broader shift for the Chinese-owned tech giant as it faces a battle for survival in Washington.

Pappas was TikTok’s most senior executive in the United States and was interim chief before the hiring of TikTok’s current chief, Shou Zi Chew. Chew, who is based in Singapore, said in an email to employees Thursday, which was obtained by The Washington Post, that Pappas had stepped down “to refocus on their entrepreneurial passions.”

Chew also announced the promotion of TikTok chief of staff Adam Presser to head of operations and the hiring of a Disney veteran, Zenia Mucha, to become the company’s chief brand and communications officer. He said the changes were intended to “evolve” the organizational structure of the company, which says it now has more than 1 billion monthly active users around the world, including more than 100 million in the United States.

Presser, a former WarnerMedia executive, will be responsible for global operations and has over the past year led the management of internal initiatives such as Project Clover, a data-security proposal in the European Union similar to the company’s U.S. effort, Project Texas, Chew said. Mucha was Disney’s top spokesperson for more than 20 years as the media empire devoured franchises such as Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar and opened its first theme park in China.

“This is a big moment for TikTok,” said Reuven Ashtar, chief executive of the creator management company Never Napping. “It signifies a shift that will get to the core of whether TikTok remains a creator hub and how it might move to embrace Hollywood and media.”

TikTok creators said Thursday that they see Pappas as a champion of their work and wondered how the culture of TikTok might change with someone else running the show. Pappas has spent years cultivating close relationships with the video makers and influencers that have become the lifeblood of modern social media, having served on a formative team at YouTube that coined the term “creator” in its modern usage.

Inside the TikTok creator lounge at the annual online-video convention VidCon in Anaheim, where TikTok is the headline sponsor, many expressed surprise Thursday at the departure. Several wondered what the change would mean for their incomes, which for some are considerable.

VidCon itself has become a symbol of TikTok’s rise to preeminence in the short-video world. Until 2021, the convention’s primary sponsor was YouTube. Then TikTok took that role, and its annual party has become one of VidCon’s most coveted events. Last year, Pappas, who left YouTube for TikTok in 2018, delivered a keynote speech at the convention, pitching creators on TikTok’s platform, rather than those of its short-video rivals.

“V has become synonymous with TikTok within the creator economy,” said Brendan Gahan, a partner at the creative agency Mekanism. “She’s incredibly well respected. … TikTok is a tour de force today in large part due to the work she’s done.”

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The announcement of Pappas’s departure also was greeted with angst among some TikTok employees, two of whom told The Post that recent reorganizations have contributed to a sense of disarray inside the company. Eric Han, the U.S. head of trust and safety, left the company last month.

Pappas once served as the face of the company on Capitol Hill, including during a fiery Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in September, where members of Congress grilled the executive over TikTok parent company ByteDance’s Chinese roots. That role has now been assumed by Chew, who lawmakers pummeled during a five-hour hearing in March.

It is unknown what impact Pappas’s departure might have on TikTok’s ongoing negotiations with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the federal agency that reviews corporate deals for national security concerns. Those talks have been led by ByteDance’s top lawyer, the former Microsoft executive Erich Andersen.

Biden administration officials have pushed ByteDance to sell off the company, though the Chinese government has said it would strongly oppose any forced sale. TikTok has said it is a private company that is not influenced by the Chinese government.

Pappas came out as nonbinary in February and prefers they/them pronouns.

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Pappas led TikTok through a rocky period after Kevin Mayer, also a former Disney executive, resigned as CEO after only a few months in 2020, citing his frustrations over political acrimony between TikTok and the Trump administration.

Where Chew is reserved in public appearances, Pappas is known for a more candid approach. In March, Pappas told attendees at a Los Angeles summit that some of U.S. lawmakers’ suspicion of TikTok’s Chinese connection was predicated on “xenophobia.”

In a note to employees Thursday, Pappas said they would take an advisory role at the company but offered no other indication of future work.

“I took a gamble on what was then a completely unknown company and product and followed my intuition,” Pappas wrote. “Five years later, we have grown to a global team of thousands. … I finally feel the time is right to move on.”

The executive shift comes as TikTok fights to ensure its dominance of the online market for quick, colorful videos, including competition from entrants from American tech giants Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

“There’s obviously a race to be the platform that’s monetizing short-form content enough for creators to care,” Jordan Matter, a family content creator in Los Angeles with more than 5 million TikTok followers. “YouTube so far is the closest to that, so for TikTok to maintain their position as the titan of short form, they’re going to have to find a way to monetize the content more significantly.”

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Abraham
Expert tech and gaming writer, blending computer science expertise