WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group of leading Republican senators on Tuesday stepped up pressure on TikTok, asking the Trump administration to assess the threat that a popular Chinese video-sharing app could interfere in the US election.
The Tik Tok logo is displayed on a smartphone, standing on the US flag in this illustrative photo taken on November 8, 2019. Reuters / Dado Ruvic
In a letter Tuesday, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and other lawmakers cited alleged censorship of sensitive content by TikTok, including a video criticizing China’s treatment of Uighur minorities and alleged attempts by Beijing to manipulate political discussions about social media applications.
“We are deeply concerned that (the Chinese Communist Party) could use its control of TikTok to distort or manipulate (political) talks to sow discord among Americans and achieve desired political results,” lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Office of National Intelligence. ODHI), Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
A company spokesman said TikTok, while not a “prerequisite” for political news, was “actively investing in protecting our app” and taking peers from peer experience during the last election.
“TikTok already has a strict anti-disinformation policy, and we do not accept political advertising,” she said, adding that the content and moderation policy is run by a California-based team and “is not influenced by any foreign government.”
The FBI and DHS did not respond to requests for comment, while an ODNI official acknowledged receipt of the letter and said, “We will respond accordingly.”
Lawmakers, joined by Republicans Ted Cruz, Johnny Ernst Tom Tillis, Kevin Kramer and Rick Scott, asked officials to say whether Beijing could strengthen certain political views and conduct influential operations through a popular app owned by Beijing ByteDance Technology Co.
“If there is evidence of CCP electoral interference through TikTok, can ByteDance receive sanctions?” in accordance with the order on external electoral influence, legislators asked.
TikTok is at the crossroads of the Trump administration as US-China ties break through a pandemic and Beijing moves to restrict freedoms in Hong Kong. This month, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that measures to overcome the national security risks posed by TikTok were inevitable.
The number of Trump polls has dwindled as he prepares to face Democrat Joe Biden in the November election. In 2019, a report by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller identified major cases of Russian interference that benefited from Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
Report by Alexandra Alper; Edited by David Gregorio