Republicans warn of Chinese interference in elections via TikTok

GOP lawmakers are asking intelligence for a briefing on TikTok’s new “electoral center”, and express fears that the initiative will allow Communist Party interference Chinese in the US elections, as well as the collection of important data on political activity in the country (including voter registration information). The group, led by Representatives Jim Banks and Michael Waltz, explained their fears in a letter sent this week to Jeffrey Wichman, the top intelligence officer who handles foreign political interference.

“TikTok , an overseas subsidiary of Chinese company ByteDance, which has members of the Chinese Communist Party on its board, will police American political discourse and own the data of potentially millions of voters,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter obtained exclusively by National Review. “This new Central Election could provide the Chinese Communist Party with a tool of political surveillance and interference in elections. Such a party is our main foreign adversary, and this tool is unprecedented.”

Lawmakers also asked Wichman to brief the Republican Studies Committee on how TikTok’s Election Center could allow the Chinese government to interfere in US elections and involve the CCP’s surveillance attempts. Among the fourteen signatories of the letter are Representatives Lisa McClain, Claudia Tenney and Joe Wilson, as well as other members of the Committee.

The social media company linked to the Chinese Communist Party revealed its new initiative on 17 August, in a release entitled: “Our commitment to electoral integrity”. The endeavor is a collaboration with several non-profit organizations, such as the National Association of Secretaries of State and organizations focused on the political participation of the deaf, university students and prisoners.

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“Giving access to information is an important part of our overall strategy to combat electoral disinformation, which is why we are implementing an Electoral Hub to link people engaged in electoral content with official information and sources in more than 45 languages ​​including English and Spanish,” wrote Eric Han, TikTok’s head of security in the US.

TikTok will also add labels that identify political content related to the midterm elections. term, which will take place in November, including content associated with candidates and public agents, allowing users to directly access the Electoral Center. In addition, the company said it will continue to enforce its policies by banning “electoral disinformation”, harassment and “hateful behavior”, in conjunction with “reputable fact-checking agencies”.

Vale note that TikTok said it would also provide information to help people register to vote, although this would direct users away from TikTok. The app would not have “access to any data or activity outside the platform.”

Still, lawmakers, who cited a report according to which TikTok has the ability to access users’ keyboards users, are not convinced. “This means that TikTok will profile the votes of US users who use Central Elections.”

Since June, TikTok has faced an increasing level of scrutiny regarding its parent’s extensive ties with the Chinese Communist Party. That month BuzzFeed published a complaint: it went into detail that ByteDance engineers in Beijing could access US user data, a revelation that contradicted TikTok’s previous public statements. Since then Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, respectively director and deputy director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have called for a briefing on TikTok counterintelligence, accusing its leadership of misleading Congress. . A mountain of lawmakers raised similar concerns about the app’s data collection.

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While much of Washington’s alarm over TikTok centers on the possible transfer of data to Chinese government entities, there is reason to believe that the company manipulates content in order to fit it into the Chinese Communist Party’s narratives. TikTok has already been accused of censoring content that conflicts with Beijing’s political sensibilities — a charge it has strenuously denied.

And while TikTok tried to downplay its ties to the Communist Party, ByteDance collaborated. with security agencies in Xinjiang to cover up Beijing’s mass atrocities against the Uighurs. In addition, a ByteDance board member, Neil Shen, has a seat on the body that participates in the united front of the Communist Party’s network of political influence.

Wichman was selected this year to lead the Malignant Foreign Influence Response Center at the Director of National Intelligence’s Agency (ODNI). The center is a new cell, tasked with dealing with political interference efforts promoted by governments that have interests contrary to the US. GOP lawmakers told Wichman that the app’s growing popularity should be especially worrisome in light of Beijing’s wide-ranging surveillance and attempts to interfere. data revealed in filings by foreign agents, Chinese government spending in the US has grown enormously: from ten million dollars in 2016 to 64 million in 2020 According to the Intelligence Community Report published by the Director of National Intelligence, ‘China has probably maintained long-term efforts to gather information about voters and public opinion, political parties, candidates and their teams, as well as senior government officials during the last election,” the lawmakers wrote.

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An ODNI spokesperson declined to comment on the possibility that TikTok’s electoral activities could boost Party C’s surveillance and political interference activities Chinese Communist. TikTok did not respond to requests from National Review for comment.

© 2022 National Review. Published with permission. Original in English.

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