New York Times published an op-ed on Sunday calling for the Biden administration to take further action to restrict TikTok’s ability to influence the American public due to its ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
“TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. And Chinese companies are vulnerable to the whims and the will of the Chinese government,” Times’ columnist Ezra Klein wrote.
He added, “There is no possible ambiguity on this point: The Chinese Communist Party spent much of the last year cracking down on its tech sector. They made a particular example out of Jack Ma, the high-flying founder of Alibaba. The message was unmistakable: Chief executives will act in accordance with party wishes or see their lives upended and their companies dismembered.”
Klein, who founded the left-wing site Vox, notes the widespread use of TikTok, and argues this underscores the threat it poses to American security.
“TikTok, as we know it today, is only a few years old. But its growth is like nothing we’ve seen before. In 2021, it had more active users than Twitter, more U.S. watch minutes than YouTube, more app downloads than Facebook, more site visits than Google,” he wrote.
In 2020, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to begin the process of banning TikTok.
In the order, the White House warned that China can weaponize Americans’ data using the app, and that the PRC can weaponize TikTok to spread propaganda.
“TikTok automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage,” the executive order stated.
Additionally, the executive order concluded that the social media company censored content that the Chinese Communist Party considered politically sensitive like the protests in Hong Kong and the treatment of Uyghurs.
Upon taking office, President Biden replaced Trump’s executive order with his own. According to Klein, while Biden’s new order regulates data collection, “it does not address the other ways that China could weaponize the platform”, like TikTok’s manipulation problem.
“TikTok’s real power isn’t over our data. It’s over what users watch and create. It’s over the opaque algorithm that governs what gets seen and what doesn’t,” Klein wrote.
Klein argues that the fact that China sees a free and open internet as a threat to its government is just another indicator that they will use it to sow division and spread pro-CCP propaganda in the United States.
“China has long seen these platforms as potential weapons. As China’s authoritarian turn continues, and as relations between our countries worsen, it is not far-fetched to suspect they might do unto us what they have always feared we would do unto them,” he wrote.
Klein compares China’s influence on Americans via TikTok with the prospect of the Soviet Union having bought out local television stations throughout the country during the Cold War. He says the Soviet propaganda would actually be less dangerous because Americans would know they are viewing Russian-owned TV, whereas the lines are more blurred with TikTok.
“The social media platforms that hold and shape our attention need to be governed in the public interest. That means knowing who’s truly running them and how they’re running them,” Klein wrote. “On this, Donald Trump was right, and the Biden administration should finish what he started.”