For years, TikTok has been criticized by some Western lawmakers for allegedly mishandling its user data. Now, the wildly popular short video app faces a new accusation that it might meddle in U.S. elections.
In a letter to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security, a group of heavyweight Republican U.S. senators led by Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio expressed concerns that TikTok may enable the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to engage in influence operations designed to interfere in American elections.
“We are greatly concerned that the CCP could use its control over TikTok to distort or manipulate (political) conversations to sow discord among Americans and to achieve its preferred political outcomes,” the senators wrote in the letter dated Tuesday, labeling TikTok a popular forum for Americans to engage in political conversation.
In the letter, the U.S. lawmakers also asked if it is possible TikTok could give the CCP an opportunity to conduct campaigns aimed at changing the elections’ outcome and if there are any other Chinese-owned social media apps that are able to provide vectors for U.S. election interference.
ByteDance-owned TikTok has repeatedly denied allegations that it acts at the behest of the Chinese government.
TikTok has made efforts to ease such concerns, including hiring an American CEO, storing American data in the U.S. and establishing a Los Angeles-based content moderation transparency center that allows external experts to see how it deals with content on its platform.
The letter comes as the U.S. is threatening a ban on TikTok and pressing its allies to work with it in cracking down on the app for security reasons.
On Tuesday, a group of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers said that they will urge the Shinzo Abe government to limit the use of TikTok on the grounds that the app could mishandle sensitive information.
Contact reporter Ding Yi (email@example.com)