TikTok Deal National Security Threat Now

If social media app TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, wanted to demonstrate why it’s imperative the federal government force ByteDance to sell the app to a company unaffiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, it couldn’t have done better than the misguided influence campaign it tried the day a House committee was set to vote on legislation that would do that.

Last Thursday, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s scheduled meeting on legislation that would either ban the app from web hosting services in the U.S. or force ByteDance to sell TikTok, TikTok promoted a message to millions of American users, directing them to call Congress and “stop a TikTok shutdown.”

Thousands of TikTok users, including numerous children, did just that, flooding congressional offices with so many phone calls that some offices had to shut off their phones altogether. “It’s so, so bad. Our phones have not stopped ringing,” said one congressional aide to reporters. “They’re teenagers and old people saying they spend their whole day on the app, and we can’t take it away.” Some of the callers even threatened to commit suicide.

This reinforces why the House of Representatives should follow through and pass the TikTok legislation on Wednesday, just as the House Energy and Commerce Committee did by a bipartisan, unanimous vote last Thursday.

It isn’t just that TikTok is bad because thousands of seniors and children are so addicted to it that they cannot imagine life without it. The more critical and natural security issue is that the Chinese Communist Party controls algorithms that control what users see. All data on users’ devices, not just app data but all phone data, including contacts and location, are sent to the Chinese Communist Party.

Regarding data collection, TikTok has tried to mitigate concerns by storing all U.S. data on Oracle servers in Texas. However, by Chinese law, all Chinese companies must share the entirety of their data with the Chinese Communist Party. And leaked TikTok recordings have established that “everything is seen in China.”

What is equally worrisome is research on TikTok content by Rutgers University’s Network Contagion Research Institute. It shows that topics sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party are regularly strangled when compared to other content.

Compared to other domestically owned apps, content on TikTok related to Tibet, Hong Kong, Kashmir, and the Uyghurs appears far less frequently in algorithmically controlled user feeds.

TikTok users say they aren’t proud to be American

It isn’t an accident that Generation Z is the only generation to say it receives its news from TikTok. It is also the only generation’s members to say they aren’t proud to be Americans. We have allowed an adversary with known ambitions to displace America as the world’s leading power, to poison the minds of millions and spy on them. At the height of the Cold War, it would be like we turned Hollywood production studios and network nightly news over to the Kremlin.

Some significant libertarian donors have attempted to make this a free speech issue. Forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok has nothing to do with free speech. If individuals want to share anti-American propaganda, there are hundreds of other platforms available.

Previous efforts to address the threat of TikTok have been derailed by attempts to expand executive power so future presidents could also ban additional foreign technology. The embedding of possible dangerous foreign technology into our information infrastructure is a concern, but Congress shouldn’t let that bigger, complicated problem slow down the current momentum to deal with TikTok properly.

The House has passed its TikTok divestiture. The Senate should take up the issue next week.