Morgan Griffith: The Very Real Dangers of TikTok

Everyone knows TikTok is the video sharing application (“app”) that people of all ages use, especially younger people. In fact, according to TikTok, 170 million Americans use the social media app.

Unlike other popular social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), TikTok is linked to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In China, the Communist Party runs the government.

TikTok is currently owned by its Chinese parent company ByteDance.

The CCP requires companies like ByteDance to cooperate with their government, share information, etc.

According to Axios, former ByteDance executive Yintao Yu claimed that ByteDance “has served as a useful propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party.”

The Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee, on which I serve, has done a lot of work this Congress to investigate this issue and figure out legislative solutions.

Last March, TikTok’s CEO Shou Chew came in to testify before the Committee. It was clear throughout the hearing that despite claims to the contrary, TikTok, through ByteDance, is closely connected to the CCP.

As a long-standing member of the legal community, I was particularly appalled that Mr. Chew on the one hand said TikTok was completely separate from ByteDance, and on the other, was totally unabashed that TikTok and ByteDance have the same lawyers.

The Committee recently considered H.R. 7521, the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, designed to tackle national security threats like the one posed by TikTok.

The legislation is aimed at protecting the United States of America by preventing foreign adversaries, specifically, China, Iran, North Korea, or Russia, from targeting and surveilling U.S. citizens and manipulating American public opinion and policy through their apps, like TikTok.

Make no mistake, TikTok can be informative and a lot of fun, but it can also be used nefariously by the Chinese Communist Party.

In the bill, if an app is determined to be owned by a company controlled by a foreign adversary, the app must be divested (i.e. sold off) by the foreign adversary’s company or the app will be prohibited in the United States. But, once sold, the app would be allowed for use in the United States.

I attended security briefings on the legislation. Also, at a previous public hearing before a different committee, former U.S. National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone testified about TikTok. He stated the app “…provides a foreign nation a platform for information operations, a platform for surveillance…”

Before the bill was introduced, I was asked to review the draft language and helped to craft the final product.

We wanted to make it clear we do not want to ban TikTok, we just want its ties to the CCP severed permanently and irrevocably.

Immediately prior to the bill being brought up in Committee, E&C Members were part of a 4-hour executive session/classified hearing.

Because it was a classified hearing, I cannot discuss the details. But even without the classified hearing, it is clear that many in our intelligence community believe TikTok is a national security threat.

The information we learned was alarming enough to bring Republicans and Democrats together in the defense of the United States.

The legislation passed Committee unanimously (50-0!) and will next be considered by the full House.

When TikTok caught wind that the Committee was considering this legislation, their online disinformation campaign against the legislation was robust, and quite astonishing.

Targeted American users who tried to access TikTok were compelled to call their Congressman before they could even access the app’s features.

TikTok also released a false statement on social media stating that the bill was “an outright ban of TikTok.”

As explained above, if TikTok is sold by ByteDance, it is free to operate in the United States. But clearly, the CCP does not want to give up their ability to spy and manipulate.

Further, they stated that the bill “tramples the First Amendment rights” of Americans (like China really cares about free speech).

I believe saying this bill would violate the First Amendment is incorrect. The Supreme Court makes a distinction between laws based on the content of speech vs. conduct. Laws based on conduct, which threatens national security, particularly when likely orchestrated by a foreign power, are not “per se” violations of the First Amendment.

Content placed on TikTok by American citizens is not the issue. Conduct is.

America is at risk!

While I can not share everything I know, I am convinced TikTok, while owned by ByteDance, a Beijing Company, and directed by the CCP, can be used to damage American security.

  • Congressman Morgan Griffith

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