Wisconsin Congressman Mike Gallagher and His Committee Want Answers from TikTok on Popular App’s Latest Controversial Activities

It seems TikTok just can’t quit its creeping ways.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI-08), chairman of the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, is seeking answers from the controversial video hosting site on allegations of ongoing censorship and monitoring of individuals, including those who view LGBTQ-related content on the platform.

The committee sent a letter this week to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew expressing grave concerns about the popular app’s latest activities, including censoring video clips from a documentary about Hong Kong newspaper owner and Jimmy Lai. The Catholic pro-democracy advocate was charged and imprisoned under the Hong Kong National Security Act — officially known as the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Lai, who was really advocating for Hong Kong democracy beneath the fist of the Chinese Communist Party, was charged with colluding with foreign powers. He became the first high-profile figure to be charged under the new “national security law.”

TikTok, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese-based tech firm ByteDance Ltd., recently suspended the account of the producer of a documentary on Lai’s life, The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai’s Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom. After public outcry, TikTok reversed its suspension of the account belonging to the film’s producer, the Michigan-based Acton Institute.

But TikTok continued to censor some of the clips from the film for violating the social media platform’s “community guidelines’ without explanation.

As Gallagher and House committee members note in their letter, recent reporting also has revealed that TikTok has tracked individuals who have viewed gay content.

“For at least a year, some employees at TikTok were able to find what they described internally as a list of users who watch gay content on the popular app, a collection of information that sparked worker complaints, according to former TikTok employees,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

“TikTok doesn’t ask users to disclose their sexual orientation, but it cataloged videos users watched under topics such as LGBT, short for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, the former employees said. The collection of information, which could be viewed by some employees through a dashboard, included a set of affiliated users who watched those videos, and their ID numbers, they said.”

Internal documents also showed how TikTok’s parent company ByteDance tracks and censors “sensitive words” — in practice, topics disfavoured by the Chinese Communist Party.

“All these actions reinforce the very serious concerns that members of Congress — including many Select Committee members — have repeatedly raised about the extent to which TikTok’s decisions, including decisions about content moderation, are subject to the influence, control or direction of the CCP and/or the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” the letter to TikTok’s CEO states.

The lawmakers note ByteDance’s well-established deep links to the Chinese Communist Party.

“TikTok is owned by ByteDance, ByteDance is a People’s Republic of China company, and ByteDance is subject to all the influence, guidance, and de facto control to which the Chinese Communist Party now subjects all PRC technology companies,” a report issued in March by the Australian Senate’s Select Committee on Foreign Interference concluded. “We show how the CCP and PRC state agencies have extended their ties into ByteDance to the point that the company can no longer be accurately described as a private enterprise.”

Australia is set to join a rapidly expanding list of nations, including the United States and Great Britain, to prohibit the vide-sharing app from government employees’ work phones. Several states have done the same.

TikTok has vehemently denied monitoring user content on behalf of the Chinese government. But it has “repeatedly made decisions that are directly aligned with the CCP’s censorship priorities,” the committee letter notes.

TikTok has secretly suppressed topics the People’s Republic of China finds politically sensitive, including its genocide of Uyghur Muslims, the state of Tibet, and the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square, the letter states.

“What we do know is that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance’s founder promised to integrate ‘socialist core values’ into ByteDance technology and that ByteDance’s editor-in-chief, who is the secretary of its CCP committee, vowed that the CCP committee would ‘take the lead’ across all product and business lines,” the lawmakers wrote.

The committee demands TikTok provide the following information by May 24.

  • All documents and communications related to moderation decisions around Acton’s account, including content censorship, account suspension and reinstatement
  • All policies, guidelines, and communications that describe or discuss content moderation, including the enforcement of “community guidelines”
  • All documents and communications between ByteDance and TikTok regarding content moderation either in the U.S. or abroad
  • All information about TikTok’s “heating” of content on behalf of the CCP, PRC government, ByteDance, or any other PRC entity
  • An explanation of whether TikTok believes that Jimmy Lai’s detention comports with the rule of law or democratic principles and, if not, the implications of Mr. Lai’s detention for press freedom
  • All documents and communications related to the process and methodology of putting TikTok users on lists or tracking them—including but not limited to the tracking of users who watched gay content as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Foreign adversaries, the committee members stressed, “have no place censoring American speech or controlling the information space.”

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Mike Gallagher” by Congressman Mike Gallagher. Background Photo “TikTok App” by Solen Feyissa. CC BY-SA 4.0.


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