Republican members of Congress from Wisconsin this week called on Democratic Governor Tony Evers to end all state-government usage of the video-sharing application known as TikTok.
The app, which has garnered about 80 million monthly active users since its release in 2016, is run by the Chinese technology corporation ByteDance. Recent reporting indicates the communist Chinese government is using the program to mine data from TikTok users aggressively and track some Americans’ whereabouts.
Responding to these revelations, some governors, including Maryland Republican Larry Hogan and South Dakota Republican Kristi Noem, barred their state agencies days ago from any presence on the platform. In a joint letter, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) as well as Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-WI-8), Bryan Steil (R-WI-1), Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI-5), and Tom Tiffany (R-WI-7) urged Evers to take similar action.
“TikTok is nefarious Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spyware that surveils American citizens, promotes CCP propaganda, and allows the CCP to censor and control Americans’ news and content,” the legislators wrote. “The United States Congress and multiple Biden Administration officials have raised concerns about TikTok on national security grounds and even called for a ban. These concerns are not localized at the federal level — this affects the Wisconsin state government and Wisconsinites at large.”
Johnson and his colleagues encouraged the governor to “lead by example” and delete TikTok from his electronic devices. Their letter discusses the strong ties ByteDance leaders have maintained to the CCP, echoing the U.S. Department of Justice’s description of company founder Zhang Yiming as a “mouthpiece for the CCP” who is “committed to promoting the CCP’s agenda and messaging.”
American policymakers began voicing concern about the potential reach and use of TikTok spyware years ago. In July 2020, soon-to-be President Joe Biden ordered his campaign staff to remove the app from their personal and work phones. His predecessor Donald Trump barred federal entities from engaging in any transaction with ByteDance.
Should Wisconsin’s government maintain a presence on TikTok, the lawmakers warned, it could lead to the collection of sensitive data by the CCP and even subject state-government employees to extortion. The congressional delegation lamented that China is already using algorithms to censor content critical of the communist regime and its human-rights record. China’s behavior, they wrote, suggests no proper course other than discontinuing the program’s use.
“Wisconsinites expect their governor to be aware of the dangerous national security threats TikTok poses and to protect them from this avenue for CCP intelligence operations,” they insisted. “Knowing the threats posed by CCP control of TikTok, it is irresponsible — at best — for a governor to ignore these risks and promote TikTok through his own use of the app.”
Because privacy and geostrategic concerns surrounding TikTok loom so large, some major media voices have called for total prohibition of the platform’s operation in the United States. The conservative magazine National Review, underscoring the extent to which ByteDance has aided the CCP in trafficking its propaganda, particularly regarding China’s ill-treatment of its Uyghur population, editorialized in favor of an outright ban on Tuesday. Last month, tech researcher Jake Denton of the D.C.-based Heritage Foundation urged policymakers to prohibit the app’s use entirely.
Federal efforts against TikTok meanwhile continue. The new Republican majority set to take control of the House of Representatives next year is widely expected to hold hearings on the company’s operations. The Biden administration is already negotiating with the platform about what conditions to apply to keep a presence among American internet users.
There have been no initial signs, however, that Evers plans to change state policy. Spokesman Britt Cudaback took to Twitter Tuesday morning to criticize the partisan nature of the Republican lawmakers’ letter.
My favorite part about Wisconsin Republicans’ ~we want to work together~ narrative is when they send a formal, three-page letter that could’ve been a phone call just so they leak to press and get stories like this.
In the spirit of bipartisanship, of course! https://t.co/79nFGN82rb
— Britt Cudaback (@BrittCudaback) December 6, 2022
“My favorite part about Wisconsin Republicans’ ~we want to work together~ narrative is when they send a formal, three-page letter that could’ve been a phone call just so they leak to press and get [news] stories…,” Cudaback wrote. “In the spirit of bipartisanship, of course!”
By this writing, the governor’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment as to what action, if any, he may take regarding TikTok.
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