Ex-employees of TikTok “say the issue is not being tackled for fear of slowing the growth of the social media app's business,” according to the BBC. Clearly, TikTok does not have the best interests of the United States and Europe at heart. Those come second to profits at best, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at worst.
Academic researchers have sought the kind of data from TikTok provided by other social media companies to do detailed studies of the app, but TikTok is resistant to releasing as much as Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter.
Such research sounds like an obvious public good. But TikTok’s rules around releasing data for scientific research are so onerous as to make these important studies impossible.
What is TikTok hiding, and why?
America’s elected representatives should be coming to the rescue with either a requirement that TikTok releases full data for scientific research or a full TikTok ban. I prefer the latter.
“TikTok had hardly any friends in government earlier this year as the Biden administration, Congress and state legislatures were threatening to ban the Chinese-owned video giant,” wrote John D. McKinnon in the Journal. “TikTok now has many more friends, with something in common: backing from billionaire financier Jeff Yass. They’ve helped stall attempts to outlaw America’s most-downloaded app.”
Democrats tend to be more supportive of TikTok than Republicans. This includes opposition to a TikTok ban. But a few Republicans who benefited from Mr. Yass’s donations, including Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Thomas Massie, also oppose a ban.
“The lobbying effort by Yass is notable in part because of the extent of his political spending—he and his wife were the third-largest conservative donors nationally in the 2022 election cycle, chipping in about $49 million to support conservative candidates and causes, according to OpenSecrets,” wrote Mr. McKinnon.
Mr. Yass has plenty of money to spend. “Yass’s investment company, Susquehanna International Group, bet big on TikTok in 2012, buying a stake in parent company ByteDance now measured at about 15%,” according to the Journal. “That translates into a personal stake for Yass of 7 percent in ByteDance … worth roughly $21 billion based on the company’s recent valuation, or much of his $28 billion net worth as gauged by Bloomberg.”
Rep. Josh Hawley, who has consistently supported the ban, told the Journal, "TikTok and its dark-money cronies are spending vast amounts of money to kill these bills.”
If they can support slavery in China, they can surely support TikTok in the United States.
The successful lobbying of Mr. Yass and TikTok to keep the social media app alive, along with the potential for the app to mold the next generation of American voters to be soft on the Chinese Communist Party, illustrates the vulnerabilities of our relatively open democratic system to illiberal foreign influence. The problem can be fixed, but it will require public education and pressure on elected representatives to do the right thing and ban social media that is ultimately controlled by adversary nations like China. This is no small task, as the Yass case makes clear.
Americans with financial interests in China and other adversary states should not be able to use the money made in those states, which could have strings attached, to finance candidates, nonprofits, social media companies, and political action committees in the United States. Such a law might require a Constitutional amendment, but it must be done to fully protect the Constitution and the American values it enshrines.