Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) posted her first video to TikTok over the weekend in support of the controversial platform. In the video, Ocasio-Cortez claimed that its ban, which House Speaker Kevin McCarthy indicated was aimed at protecting Americans from the genocidal Chinese regime, would be “unprecedented.”
The New York Democrat’s belated support for and interest in TikTok has raised eyebrows, particularly in light of new reports that its Chinese-owned parent company dumped $150,000 into the Hispanic Congressional Caucus Foundation just a few months ago.
TikTok has over 150 million monthly users in the United States. Its parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing.
The Washington Post reported that the Chinese communist regime acquired a stake in ByteDance in 2021 and one of three seats on its board. Beyond this direct state involvement, ByteDance is also liable to give up whatever data Beijing wants.
The Chinese regime passed a law in 2017 that requires “any organization” to assist or cooperate with state intelligence work. A 2014 counter-espionage law states “relevant organizations … may not refuse” to collect evidence on behalf of the state, reported the Associated Press.
Since there are no limits on the regime’s power or control inside China, the communists can effectively take or access whatever data they desire, regardless of the complicity of companies like ByteDance at the outset.
In addition to the potential capture of sensitive data by America’s preeminent adversary, the Australian Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media recently put out a report noting that less discussed but similarly impactful is how TikTok “provides Beijing with the latent capability to weaponize the platform by suppressing, amplifying, and otherwise calibrating narratives in ways that micro-target political constituencies abroad.”
PBS reported that TikTok has previously clamped down on mentions of the Tiananmen Square massacre and images unfavorable to the Chinese regime in 2019.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew told a bipartisan House committee Thursday that ByteDance “is not an agent of China.”
Democrats and Republicans alike are evidently not convinced.
After Chew’s testimony, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, said, “It’s not just exfiltrating data from an American phone. It’s what they are able to push to Americans through the algorithm, control our sense of reality, control the news and meddle in future elections.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R), chairwoman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, said, “TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you, manipulate what you see and exploit for future generations.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers last week that TikTok was a threat to the U.S. and that it “should be ended one way or another.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R) announced on Sunday that the “House will be moving forward with legislation to protect Americans from the technological tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Birds of a feather
China’s foreign ministry apparatchik Mao Ning said Monday, “U.S. should respect fair competition, and stop suppressing foreign companies.”
Ocasio-Cortez similarly spoke out against the potential ban and did so on the potentially compromised and compromising social media platform, reported The Hill.
“This is not only my first TikTok, but it is a TikTok about TikTok,” Ocasio-Cortez says in the video, adding, “Do I believe TikTok should be banned? No.”
Ocasio-Cortez continued, saying, “I think it’s important to discuss how unprecedented of a move this would be. The United States has never before banned a social media company from existence, from operating in our borders. … And this is an app that has over 150 million Americans on it.”
The New York Democrat suggested that the “solution here is not to ban an individual company — but to actually protect Americans from this kind of egregious data harvesting that companies can do without your significant ability to say no.”
“Usually when the United States is proposing a very major move, that has something to do with significant risk to national security, one of the first things that happens is that Congress receives a classified briefing,” said Ocasio-Cortez.
Having allegedly not been briefed on the national security threat TikTok poses, Ocasio-Cortez added, “So why would we be proposing a ban regarding such a significant issue without being included on this at all? It just doesn’t feel right to me.”
Ocasio-Cortez reiterated on Twitter, “Banning TikTok isn’t the solution to data privacy concerns. Instead, Congress needs to focus on regulating social media companies’ unchecked habit of collecting user data without their consent.”
150,000 reasons not to ban TikTok
Kyle Bass, the founder of Conservation Equity Management, tweeted in response to Ocasio-Cortez’s late defense of TikTok, “The TikTok Digital Trojan Horse…constructed by Xi himself. It’s so obvious what the CPC is doing…who knows which lobbyist got to the former bartender?”
Fox News Digital had an answer ready to Bass’ question, having reported that ByteDance donated $150,000 both to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in December.
Jake Denton of the Heritage Foundation noted on Twitter that “AOC is a member of the CHCI advisory council,” adding, “What a coincidence!”
Altif Brown, co-founder of Constellation Network, noted that Ocasio-Cortez neglected the fact that TikTok could be banned and social media networks simultaneously regulated: “These things are not mutually exclusive: We can and should promote regulation around data privacy and invest in infrastructure that can guarantee it. AND Protect our citizens (and allies) from data harvesting done by hostile actors.”
American Foreign Policy Council fellow Michael Sobolik suggested Ocasio-Cortez’s video “echos TikTok’s talking points and ignores the app’s true threat: CCP-directed disinformation.”
“Extremely on brand for her to turn this into a ‘data privacy’ & social media issue, leave out the info control & influence argument, not factor in decades of documented CCP history and present a dumb case in a way that will resonate with her base,” wrote Sar Haribhakti, an economics professor at the University of Rochester.
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