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TikTok Is A National Security Threat

Let’s talk about the TikTok legislation, which passed the House yesterday with my support. This is a longer post, I’m sorry. We’ll start with some undisputable facts.

First, TikTok is owned by a company called ByteDance, which is controlled by the communist Chinese government. Just to refresh everyone’s memory:

China, as you ALL should know, is behaving as a VERY hostile foreign adversary against the United States, our citizens, and our companies. China is as actively engaged in spying, intellectual property theft, and cyber espionage. Thousands of foreign nationals from China are now illegally in our nation thanks to Joe Biden’s open border policies. Chinese hackers are constantly trying to find weaknesses within our power grids, hospital systems, banking infrastructure, and our data & telecom networks. Meanwhile, entities controlled by communist China are buying up American land (much of it near our domestic military bases) at an alarming rate. The list goes on and on.

If you don’t believe China poses a serious threat to our nation, I’m not sure what else to tell you. But it gets worse…

We also know TikTok is being used to surveil, collect data, and manipulate more than 150 million Americans. The troves of data being sent back to China on every American using that app is stunning. Location data, travel history, private messages and search history on the app, demographic info, etc. There are concerns TikTok has been “keylogging” phones, which would be able to capture passwords and credit card numbers when entered. With all this data, the possibilities for exploitation are vast, which is the first reason we shouldn’t be using apps controlled by foreign adversaries.

And if you’ve spent 5 minutes exploring TikTok, you should have recognized the addictive nature of this platform. It is designed for one purpose: to control your attention. Their algorithm quickly figures out what kind of videos you’re likely to watch, and then feed you similar videos to keep you fixated. One researcher put it like this: “it is known that creators have 3 seconds to enchant the viewer. Otherwise, their video will be thrown into TikTok’s forgetfulness blackhole. To captivate in 3 seconds, the content must essentially be outstanding: either shocking, irreverent, socially awkward, scary, performing admirable abilities, showing exposed bodies, and so on. There is no room for ordinariness.”

While it’s not the U.S. government’s job to protect Americans from addictive video apps, it is our job to protect Americans from hostile foreign influences. It is absolutely within TikTok’s ability (i.e. China’s ability) to use that platform to manipulate Americans’.

For example, right after Hamas massacred over 1,200 innocent Israelis on October 7th, multiple news agencies reported on how TikTok’s algorithm appeared to elevate the number of videos with pro-Hamas / anti-Israel sentiment! 

In other words, after our closest ally in the Middle East had just been viciously attacked, TikTok’s algorithms appeared to elevate videos that – intentionally or unintentionally – sewed support for Israel’s attackers! And it’s not obvious what they’re doing, so TikTok and China have plausible deniability. What an incredible way to manipulate U.S. public opinion and foreign policy.

Think about what that means, for example, when China decides to invade Taiwan. We should expect TikTok’s algorithms to elevate videos that falsely depict Taiwan as the real threat, thus weakening American public opinion on our relationship with Taiwan.

The possibilities like this are endless! Think about anything that could benefit our enemies, or anything that’s actually to the detriment of the United States. TikTok has become the primary news source for tens of millions of Americans, giving China the demonstrated ability to manipulate American public opinion on just about any issue!

 This has disastrous implications for our nation if not addressed.

Yesterday’s legislation would simply require ByteDance to divest its holdings of TikTok to a company that is not controlled by a foreign adversary. It’s that simple. 

Nobody’s claiming other social media platforms aren’t without their problems, including those based here in the U.S. But the last thing we need is such a hostile foreign government with so much control over the news and information so many Americans are exposed to.

This was an easy vote for me yesterday for national security reasons. This effort now heads to the Senate. President Biden has said he will sign this legislation if/when it passes Congress. Good.