More political storms raged on TikTok after the US government banned it
A turbulent year looms for TikTok in the United States as anti-China Republicans gain more control in Congress, prompting calls for more monitoring of the hugely popular video-sharing app.
TikTok, owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, has become a political punching bag for American conservatives who claim that the app downloaded by millions of young people in the US could be circumvented for espionage or propaganda by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
But Democrats have now joined the wave of criticism, and US President Joe Biden last week signed a new law banning the use of TikTok on government machines. The law also prohibits the use of TikTok in the US House and Senate.
TikTok is equivalent to “digital fentanyl,” said Republican Representative Mike Gallagher, one of the leading voices in Congress against China, comparing the app to a deadly opioid.
“It’s so addictive and devastating, and we’re seeing alarming data about the devastating impact of continued social media use, especially on young men and women here in America,” he told NBC News.
“We have to ask if we want the Chinese Communist Party to control what is about to become the most powerful media company in America,” Gallagher told NBC.
A TikTok spokesperson said there was “no truth” in Gallagher’s comments and that CCP “has no direct or indirect control over ByteDance or TikTok.”
The national law matches dozens of government use bans at the state and local level, and now TikTok USA is fighting to survive as a Chinese-owned company, with the growing possibility that it will have to dump ByteDance in order to survive on American smartphones.
This was the fate demanded by former President Donald Trump who ordered the sale of TikTok’s US operations to US company Oracle before Biden entered office and took a less hawkish approach.
But the mood toward TikTok soured dramatically last month when ByteDance was forced to admit that employees improperly accessed TikTok data tracking journalists to determine the source of leaks to the media.
The criticism has extended to other Western countries, with French President Emmanuel Macron last month accusing the Chinese social network of censoring content and encouraging internet addiction among young people.
TikTok has spent months trying to find a long-term arrangement with the US government through the classified Interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
Reports revealed that TikTok and the Biden administration were close to announcing a long-term deal that would set strict safeguards for American users’ data.
“The solution under consideration by CFIUS is a comprehensive package of measures with layers of government and independent oversight … far beyond what any peer company is doing today,” said TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter.
But that arrangement was shelved amid public criticism by FBI Director Christopher Wray who said he still considered TikTok a national security threat.
Wray warned last month that the Chinese could control the app’s algorithm, leaving US users vulnerable to a government that “doesn’t share our values, and has a mission deeply inconsistent with what is in the best interests of the United States.”
TikTok vehemently denies that the Chinese government has such controls.