US Republicans fear China may use TikTok to interfere in elections

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group of senior US Republican senators on Tuesday raised pressure on TikTok, asking the Trump administration to assess the threat that the popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app may interfere in the US election.

The Tik Tok logo is displayed on the smartphone while standing above the US flag in this illustrated image taken on November 8, 2019. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic

In a letter dated Tuesday, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and other lawmakers cited TikTok’s alleged censorship of sensitive content, including a critical video of China’s treatment of Uighur minorities, as well as Beijing’s alleged attempts to manipulate the political discussions in social media applications.

“We are very concerned that the (Chinese Communist Party) may use its control over TikTok to distort or manipulate (political) conversations to sow discord among Americans and achieve its preferred political results,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODHI), the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

A company spokesman said that TikTok, while not a “resource” for political news, was “proactively investing to safeguard our app,” and taking cues from the experience of its peers during the last election.

“TikTok already has a strict policy against disinformation, and we do not accept political announcements,” the person said, adding that the content and moderation policies are led by a California-based team and are not “influenced by any foreign government.” .

The FBI and DHS did not respond to requests for comment, while an ODNI official confirmed receipt of the letter and said “we will respond accordingly.”

Lawmakers, accompanied by Republicans Ted Cruz, Joni Ernst Thom Tilis, Kevin Cramer and Rick Scott, asked officials to say if Beijing could amplify certain political views and carry out influence operations through popular application, owned by Beijing ByteDance Technology Co.

“If evidence of CCP electoral interference arises through TikTok, would ByteDance be eligible for sanctions?” Under an executive order on foreign electoral influence, lawmakers asked.

TikTok is in the crosshairs of the Trump administration, as ties between the United States and China have deteriorated due to the pandemic and Beijing’s movement to curb freedoms in Hong Kong. This month, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the action was imminent to address the national security risks posed by TikTok.

Trump’s poll numbers have dwindled as he prepares to face Democrat Joe Biden in the November election. In 2019, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report found extensive cases of Russian meddling that benefited the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.

Report by Alexandra Alper; Edited by David Gregorio

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