TikTok is a young, popular short-form video tech platform. It’s also extremely controversial. Globally, the app has been downloaded more than 2 billion times. It has roughly 26.5 million active monthly users in the United States. But its ownership by Bytedance, a Chinese company with communist party ties has prompted serious privacy, cybersecurity and national security concerns.
The U.S. Armed Forces and TSA have both banned the app over cybersecurity risks. Concerned private information about Americans could be shared with the Communist Chinese government, President Donald Trump’s administration issued an executive order in August 2020, to ban the app. A Senate committee also voted to prevent use of TikTok on all government devices the same month.
“For federal employees it really is a no-brainer. It’s a major security risk,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said when he introduced the bill. “Do we really want Beijing having geo-location data of all federal employees? Do we really want them having their keystrokes?”
Even the Biden campaign told its staff to delete the app.
TikTok was being used by the Chinese government at one point, at least. A viral video of Chinese police giving a thumbs up as an unidentified man sat in a “tiger chair,” or torture device, went viral on the platform. Other official Chinese government accounts spread propaganda and show videos of Uighur prisoners saluting the Chinese flag.
- The Trump administration explored options for banning TikTok in the U.S. over data harvesting and its potential for sharing information on American users with the Chinese government in 2020. One option being considered was putting TikTok on the Commerce Department’s “entity list” which limits financial ties to U.S. companies.
- Live Action founder Lila Rose highlighted TikTok’s bias in February 2020, when she pointed out that it allowed a video of cheerful girls going to a Planned Parenthood and filming their abortion, while it had previously banned Live Action from the platform. TikTok later reinstated Live Action and said it had been an “error.”
- Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., invited TikTok to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in 2019. TikTok declined, saying “it was unable to send a suitable delegate ‘on short notice’ but was committed to ‘working productively’ with Congress.”
- Famous gamer and YouTuber Tyler "Ninja" Blevins publicly quit TikTok and said he hoped some “less intrusive” company not owned by China would legally create something similar.
- Feroza Aziz, a 17-year-old, posted a makeup tutorial in which she spoke out about Chinese internment and genocide against Uighur Muslims. Her account was soon suspended, although TikTok claimed it was over a different video.
- The Guardian reported in 2019 that TikTok had censored posts about Trump, Christianity and LGBT issues in other nations (not the U.S).
- A TikTok memo suggested the company should not promote videos of ugly, fat or disabled people. It also prohibited defamation of government and religious leaders, according to Business Insider. TikTok claimed these policies were never applied in the United States.
- Christians say they were censored by TikTok after content promoting their faith went viral and were prevented from livestreaming Bible studies.