TikTok is headed for a tumultuous year in the United States as anti-Chinese Republicans gain more control in Congress, prompting calls for increased surveillance of the hugely popular video-sharing app.
Owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, TikTok has become a political punching bag for American conservatives who argue that the app, downloaded by millions of U.S. youths, could be bypassed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for spying or propaganda.
But now Democrats have joined the wave of criticism, with US President Joe Biden signing a new law last week to ban TikTok from government devices. The law also bans the use of TikTok in the US House of Representatives and Senate.
TikTok is the equivalent of “digital fentanyl,” Republican MP Mike Gallagher, one of the leading voices in Congress against China, said, comparing the app to a deadly opioid.
“It’s highly addictive and destructive, and we’re seeing disturbing data about the devastating impact of constant social media use, especially on young men and women here in America,” he told NBC News.
“We have to ask if we want the CCP to control what is on the cusp of becoming the most powerful media company in America,” Gallagher told NBC.
A TikTok spokesperson said that Gallagher’s comments “have no truth” and that the CCP “has no direct or indirect control over ByteDance or TikTok.”
The national law is in line with dozens of state and local government usage bans, and now TikTok USA is struggling to survive as a Chinese company, and the likelihood that it will have to abandon ByteDance to stay on smartphones in the US is growing. .
This was required by the fate of former President Donald Trump, who ordered the sale of TikTok’s operations in the United States to the American company Oracle before Biden entered the office and took a less radical approach.
But the mood for TikTok soured significantly last month when ByteDance was forced to admit that employees were improperly accessing TikTok data to track journalists and determine the source of media leaks.
The criticism even extended to other Western countries, with French President Emmanuel Macron last month accusing a Chinese social network of censoring content and encouraging online addiction among young people.
TikTok has spent months trying to find a long-term agreement with the US government through a secret interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS).
Reports showed that TikTok and the Biden administration were on the verge of announcing a long-term deal that would specify strict security measures for U.S. user data.
“The solution being considered by CFIUS is a comprehensive package with levels of government and independent oversight … far beyond what any peer company is doing today,” said TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter.
But that arrangement was put on hold amid public criticism from FBI Director Christopher Wray, who said he continued to view TikTok as a national security threat.
Ray warned last month that the Chinese could control the app’s algorithm, leaving US users vulnerable to a government “that does not share our values and has a mission that is at odds with what is in the interests of the United States.”
TikTok vehemently denies that the Chinese government has such control.