One of the most fraught topics of today is the role of social media in political discourse, and the extent to which it’s acceptable for them to censor users. And while the United States government has done an abysmal job of addressing its own media companies’ infringements on our rights, I’m happy to report they’re taking some action against China’s.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) asked U.S. intelligence officials to look into whether the social media app TikTok presented a threat to the U.S. national security.
“With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” the senators wrote. “Given these concerns, we ask that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the U.S. and brief Congress on these findings.”
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing company that acquired the American social media app Musical.ly two years ago.
“The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews deals by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks, has started to review the Musical.ly deal, the sources said,” Reuters added. “TikTok did not seek clearance from CFIUS when it acquired Musical.ly, they added, which gives the U.S. security panel scope to investigate it now.”
Worries have risen about China’s censoring influence on Chinese-owned apps amid the Hong Kong protests. While feedback and support for the protesters has increased across almost every social media platform, TikTok remains suspiciously quiet on that front.
“While our services like WhatsApp are used by protesters and activists everywhere due to strong encryption and privacy protections, on TikTok, the Chinese app growing quickly around the world, mentions of these protests are censored, even in the U.S.,” Zuckerberg said in regards to the Hong Kong protests. “Is that the internet we want?”
A September report from The Washington Post highlighted that while the Hong Kong protests were gaining significant traction on other social media platforms, it was not gaining traction on TikTok.
“Researchers have grown worried that the app could also prove to be one of China’s most effective weapons in the global information war, bringing Chinese-style censorship to mainstream U.S. audiences and shaping how they understand real-world events,” The Washington Post reported. “Compounding researchers’ concerns are TikTok’s limited public comments about the content it removes and its purported independence from censors in Beijing.”
There’s no telling what this will lead to, but maybe take this as a timely reminder to make sure you’re not giving out data to apps or third parties you don’t want them to have. And maybe say a quick prayer that whoever’s in charge of this investigation does a better job dealing with big tech than Congress did when questioning Mark Zuckerberg.