TikTok, the wildly popular and youthful social media app, is controlled by China and tripled its ad revenue in 2022 to $12 billion. Companies want access to this latest conduit to mold youthful preferences, and every year, they’re willing to pay a lot for the privilege.
Sixty percent of TikTok users are in the age range of 16 to 24, a highly sought demographic for both their impressionability and enduring market potential.
But hapless TikTokers are also apt to lose their private data to Beijing, which ultimately controls TikTok. And the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses its control over TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to manipulate the TikTok algorithm to favor political messaging that promotes China’s national interests over those of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the United States itself.
Brendan Carr, a commissioner of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, rightly noted on June 28 that “TikTok is not just another video app.”
“That’s the sheep’s clothing,” he said. “It harvests swaths of sensitive data that new reports show are being accessed in Beijing.”
Carr has called on Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores because of its violation of their rules.
TikTok collects user data for micro-targeted advertising that China can already deploy for political purposes using TikTok users’ unique IDs. Inexplicably, the Biden administration is giving Beijing access to these unique IDs.
According to a recent Buzzfeed News report cited by Carr, Beijing can access all of TikTok users’ data anyway, as there are plenty of backdoors built into the software, which is fully controlled by the CCP, even if U.S. TikToker data is stored in places such as Virginia, Texas, and Singapore.
So anything a Tiktok user puts on their feed—including cat videos, political beliefs, and their most personal of preferences—is known to Beijing, which can track and correlate them and micro-target political messaging to users. This could have major effects in democracies, where voters’ political preferences lead directly to changes in government.
In Colombia, for example, an obscure mayor named Rodolfo Hernández used TikTok and a team of young supporters who posted his folksy material to the app. Hernández consequently gained 600,000 followers. This allowed him to rise to national prominence during the second round of the presidential election in June.
If it can happen in Colombia, it can happen in the United States.
A peer-reviewed study by Zuza Nazaruk in 2021 found that TikTok’s algorithm is biased against topics seen as sensitive by Beijing, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, the genocide in Xinjiang, and the TikTok algorithm itself.
“While none of the topics was fully censored, TikTok’s algorithm showcased videos supporting the CCP line at the top of the search, despite their lower number of likes or earlier posting dates,” Nazaruk said.
There’s no good reason for the American people, represented by their government, to allow TikTok to grow into the next big thing. There are plenty of other social media companies and a host of up-and-coming services that could be the next place to go for millennials who don’t want to use mom and dad’s preferred social media.
Each generation wants to reinvent itself, which gave TikTok an opening. But it doesn’t have to be that way; the app could be banned by Congress on national security grounds.
The prior administration did ban TikTok by executive order. However, two federal court rulings blocked the ban, and the Biden administration rescinded it altogether.
Congresspeople should step into the breach and protect the privacy of U.S. TikTok users. The only way to do so is to direct them, through a ban, to other more trusted social media companies. This will also protect U.S. national security by ensuring that Beijing can’t use the TikTok algorithm to influence voters’ political beliefs.
The fact that the Biden administration and Congress are apparently scared to ban TikTok for fear of the ire of TikTok users and their voting power, is proof that the law is needed. The longer our democracy waits, the harder it will be.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.