Billionaire Donor Should Stop Opposing TikTok Ban

Billionaire Donor Should Stop Opposing TikTok Ban
The TikTok logo is displayed on signage outside TikTok social media app company offices in Culver City, Calif., on March 16, 2023. (Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images)
Anders Corr
TikTok is still influencing young minds in the United States and around the world into anti-social behavior. According to a recent BBC investigation, anti-social “frenzies” have occurred in Idaho, the United Kingdom, and France, including riots and false accusations of murder.

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.

While social media is usually considered free speech, no speech is truly free after it has been cherry-picked by an algorithm controlled by totalitarian China and then served up for hours on end in a manner that, from the evidence, appears to support the CCP's talking points and increase social and political instability in democracies.

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.

“Social scientists say it’s important to gain access to TikTok [data] to understand the app’s impact on a variety of issues such as elections, public health messaging or the spread of misinformation,” according to Bloomberg. “By monitoring social media conversations, researchers have been able to flag inaccurate polling information that was turning away voters, for example, and help local governments better communicate with the public during natural disasters like Hurricane Idalia, which hit Florida last month.”

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.

But Congress is MIA, including some Republicans, according to The Wall Street Journal. They are influenced by one of the biggest conservative campaign donors who owns a large portion of TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance. The headquarters of Bytedance is in—you guessed it—Beijing.

“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.”

U.S. companies vulnerable to retaliation by China also tend to oppose the ban, according to Mr. McKinnon. Some of the biggest companies that do business in China are Apple, Boeing, Nike, Adidas, and Coca-Cola. According to The New York Times, Nike and Coca-Cola lobbied against a law that forbids Uyghur forced labor in China’s far western region of Xinjiang.

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.

Correction: One of the companies that lobbied against a law that forbids Uyghur forced labor has been corrected. The Epoch Times regrets the error.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea" (2018).