TikTok is a key tool in communist China’s strategy to manipulate Americans and undermine the United States’ ability to respond to crises, according to experts and lawmakers.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a single-party state, will likely use TikTok in its effort to wage “cognitive warfare” against the United States, U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) said.
“The CCP calls it ‘cognitive domain warfare,’ part of their larger political warfare strategy,” he said in prepared comments for a Nov. 30 hearing of the House Select Committee on the CCP.
Mr. Gallagher, who chairs the committee, said that the United States is struggling to respond to the threat, as the nation has no grand strategy or apparatus for confronting propaganda from authoritarian powers.
“Cognitive warfare is not something we tend to think about here in the West. Sure, we have ideas like soft power, but they’re not a national strategy,” he said.
CCP Seeks ‘Mind Dominance’The Pentagon’s 2022 China Military Power Report, which distills the Defense Department’s most authoritative assessments of China’s strategy and capabilities, highlighted the development of the CCP’s new method of psychological warfare.
“As the PLA seeks to expand the reach of its influence operations around the world and to seize information dominance on the battlefield, it is researching and developing the next evolution of psychological warfare called cognitive domain operation[s] (CDO) that leverages subliminal messaging, deep fakes, overt propaganda, and public sentiment analysis,” the report states.
“The goal of CDO is to achieve what the PLA refers to as ‘mind dominance,’ defined as the use of propaganda as a weapon to influence public opinion to effect change in a nation’s social system, likely to create an environment favorable to China and reduce civilian and military resistance to PLA actions.”
The report described CDO as “a more aggressive form of psychological warfare” intended to “affect a target’s cognition, decision making, and behavior.”
Mr. Gallagher said that CCP leader Xi Jinping considers CDO as a vital weapon in the regime’s arsenal that could be used to manipulate Americans at key moments, such as during an election cycle.
Data Suggest TikTok Takes Direction From CCPMr. Gallagher pointed to TikTok as the regime’s most powerful tool for conducting cognitive warfare.
To that end, Mr. Gallagher shared several slides suggesting that TikTok is still taking orders from Chinese communist authorities.
The slides demonstrated that posts about “viral topics” in politics and pop culture were proportionately represented on TikTok and Instagram in relation to the number of monthly users that both apps had.
Thus, there were about twice as many posts about Democrats, former President Donald Trump, Taylor Swift, and the “Barbie” movie on Instagram because Instagram has about twice as many monthly users as TikTok.
That proportionality changes, however, when one looks at topics heavily criticized or censored by the CCP.
There were about nine times fewer posts about the Uyghurs on TikTok than on Instagram, for example. And there were 30 times fewer posts about Tibet.
Moreover, there were 153 times fewer posts on TikTok about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, a topic heavily censored by Beijing on the mainland.
“In the best-case scenario, TikTok is CCP spyware—that’s why so many state and national governments have banned it on official phones,” Mr. Gallagher said.
TikTok Could Cause ‘Absolute Chaos’ in 2024 ElectionsWhat’s more, Chinese state-owned media outlets have explicitly cited TikTok as a tool for advancing the regime’s goals, testified John Garnaut, a senior fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank.
He noted that the CCP Central Committee’s official paper described TikTok as a key component in its effort to “allow short video platforms to become ‘megaphones’ for telling Chinese stories well and spreading Chinese voices well.”
Another story in the same paper said that the concepts of freedom, democracy, and human rights were invented to “compete with us [the CCP] for positions, hearts, and masses, and ultimately overthrow the leadership of the Communist Party of China and our country’s socialist system.”
To that end, Mr. Garnaut said that TikTok was “a project of total ideological control” by the CCP, with “enormous” potential to radically shape the information that Americans receive.
“The ability of this platform to manipulate public opinion at crucial moments ... I think that’s the issue for deep concern,” he said.
Mr. Garnaut agreed with that sentiment, saying that the presence of any CCP disinformation could have detrimental effects regardless of whether it was believed. He pointed to the 2016 elections as evidence for such a phenomenon.
“Mueller found no evidence that Russia caused the election of Trump or that Trump had colluded with Russia,” he said. “Nevertheless, Russia’s interference fed perceptions that bitterly divided Americans and wounded the faith of many that the election had been free and fair.”