TikTok is ‘digital fentanyl,’ incoming GOP China committee chair says

(CNN) – TikTok is an addictive drug that the Chinese government is making available to Americans, says the new chair of a new House of Representatives committee on China.

GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin told NBC’s Meet The Press in an interview that aired Sunday that he’s calling TikTok “digital fentanyl” because “it’s very addictive and destructive and we have disturbing data about the corrosive effects of constant social media are finding application, particularly among young men and women here in America,” and also because it “effectively dates back to the Chinese Communist Party.”

Gallagher, who Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has named to chair the new selection committee in the new Congress, said he believes the video app should be banned in the United States. (McCarthy is the obvious frontrunner to become Speaker of the House when the new session begins Tuesday, though he still doesn’t have enough voting commitments to be elected in the plenary vote.)

TikTok, whose parent company ByteDance is Chinese-owned, has been banned from electronic devices managed by the US House of Representatives, according to an internal notice sent to House staffers. Separately, the US government will ban TikTok from all federal devices under legislation included in the $1.7 trillion omnibus law that President Joe Biden signed into law last week. The move comes after more than a dozen states rolled out their own bans against TikTok on government devices in recent weeks.

The company said in a statement that there was “zero truth” in Gallagher’s comments.

“The Chinese Communist Party has no direct or indirect control over ByteDance or TikTok,” the company said. “ByteDance is a private, global company that is nearly 60% owned by global institutional investors, with the rest primarily owned by the company’s founders and their employees — including thousands of Americans.”

TikTok has previously called efforts to ban the app from government devices “a political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests.” TikTok declined to comment on the home restrictions.

Reining on TikTok

Gallagher says he wants to go further. As TikTok grows in popularity, he believes it needs to be curbed.

“We have to ask ourselves if we want the CCP to control what is poised to become America’s most powerful media company,” he told NBC. Gallagher backed the ban on TikTok on government devices and said the United States should “extend this ban nationwide.”

The company has been accused of censoring content politically sensitive to the Chinese government, including banning some accounts that have posted about China’s mass detention centers in its western Xinjiang region. The US State Department estimates that up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities were held in these camps.

“What if they start censoring the news, right? What if they start tweaking the algorithm to determine what the CCP deems appropriate for printing,” Gallagher warned, comparing the situation to the KGB and Pravda’s acquisition of the New York Times and other major newspapers during the height of the Cold War.

US politicians have flagged TikTok as a potential national security risk, and critics have said that ByteDance could be forced by Chinese authorities to release TikTok data on US citizens or act as a conduit for malicious influence. Security experts have said the data could allow China to identify intelligence opportunities or attempt to influence Americans through disinformation campaigns.

There is no evidence that this actually happened, although the company confirmed last month that it fired four employees who abusively accessed two journalists’ TikTok user data on the platform.

But TikTok has hundreds of millions of downloads in the United States, and the hugely influential social media platform has helped countless online creators build brands and livelihoods. As it has grown in popularity, TikTok may have grown too big to ban.

Work towards a solution

Since 2020, TikTok has been negotiating a potential deal with the US government to address national security concerns and keep the app available to US users. TikTok has said that the potential agreement under review covers “key concerns related to corporate governance, content recommendation and moderation, and data security and access.” The company has also taken some steps to organizationally and technologically isolate US user data from other parts of TikTok’s business.

But an apparent lack of progress in the talks has prompted some of TikTok’s critics, including in Congress and at the state level, to push for the app to be banned from government devices and possibly more broadly.

Gallagher said on Meet the Press he was open to selling TikTok to an American company, but “the devil is in the details.” He continued, “I don’t think this should be a partisan affair.”

When asked about Russia’s investment in Telegram and the Saudi investment in Twitter, Gallagher said his “broad concern, which includes both, is where we see authoritarian governments exploiting technology to exert total control over their citizens.” , he called it “techno-totalitarian control”.

Gallagher also called for “reciprocity,” noting that Chinese officials are allowed to use apps like Twitter, but Chinese citizens are not given access to the same apps. He said he would like to see an agreement under which “if your government does not give your citizens access to the platform, we will deny your government officials access to the same platform”.

“The government can’t educate your kids, can’t protect your kids for you,” Gallagher said, “but there are some sensible things we can do to create a healthier social media ecosystem.”

The CNN Wire
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