In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Thursday, Rubio and Gallagher outlined the threat that TikTok and other social media businesses that are effectively managed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) pose to the United States.
The lawmakers noted how the TikTok social media platform is owned by ByteDance, which is a Chinese company, although it is not owned by the Chinese government. However, they stated, “in China, no company is truly private” because China’s National Intelligence Law of 2017 holds that all people and companies must help with intelligence, including sharing information.
Several of ByteDance’s directors also used to work for outlets that spread CCP messaging and propaganda and at least 15 ByteDance workers are currently employed by them, the legislators wrote.
The security risks of TikTok usage have been raised as a concern by many people over the past several years, and the lawmakers are the most recent to do so in a substantive way that could result in shutting down the app in the United States.
They pointed out that the TikTok app can track where users are physically located and gather information about which websites they are visiting, even if they are on unconnected sites.
They also note the concern about TikTok’s algorithm, which can be changed by the manufacturers at any point without telling the people who use the app. The potential indoctrination of Americans is alarming, they said, and the app has already restricted speech about issues like human rights abuses against Uyghurs and the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
The legislators also pointed to a Pew Research Center report that revealed an increasing amount of American adults are getting their news information from TikTok. The share has gone from 3% of U.S. adults in 2020 to 10% in 2022.
“TikTok is a major threat to U.S. national security. Yet Biden is encouraging greater engagement with the platform by directly courting TikTok influencers,” they added.
They discussed a New York Times report from September that found the Biden administration created a preliminary deal with TikTok to fix national security issues. The agreement would not force TikTok to find a new owner, but the app would need to alter its personnel and data storage, according to the Times.
“Anything short of a complete separation” of TikTok from owner ByteDance “will likely leave significant national security issues regarding operations, data and algorithms unresolved,” Rubio said in a statement at the time.
“Congress needs to act against the TikTok threat before it’s too late,” the lawmakers concluded.