TikTok is "Digital Fentanyl" Says GOP China Committee Head

Delfrina Yasmine . January 03, 2023

Picture: Global Times

Techspace - According to the upcoming head of a new House select committee on China, TikTok is an addictive medication China's government provides to Americans.

In an interview that aired Sunday, GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin called TikTok "digital fentanyl" because "it's highly addictive and destructive, and we're seeing troubling data about the corrosive impact of constant social media use, particularly on young men and women here in America," and also because it "effectively goes back to the Chinese Communist Party."

Gallagher, whom House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy nominated to chair the new select committee in the upcoming Congress, has stated that he believes the video app should be banned in the United States. (McCarthy is the clear front-runner to become House speaker when the new session begins on Tuesday, though he still needs more vote pledges to be chosen in a floor vote.) 

TikTok, whose parent company, ByteDance, is Chinese-owned, has been prohibited from electronic devices administered by the US House of Representatives, according to an internal memo addressed to House workers. Separately, the US government will prohibit TikTok on all governmental devices as part of legislation included in the $1.7 trillion omnibus measure approved by President Joe Biden last week. More than a dozen states have recently placed their bans on TikTok on government equipment.

According to the corporation, Gallagher's claims hold "zero veracity."

"The Chinese Communist Party has no direct or indirect influence on ByteDance or TikTok," the business stated. "ByteDance is a private, worldwide corporation owned roughly 60% by global institutional investors, with the remainder held mostly by the company's founders and workers, including thousands of Americans."

TikTok has previously labeled efforts to block the app from government devices "a political gesture that would accomplish nothing to serve national security goals." TikTok declined to comment on the House limits.

TikTok Restrictions

Gallagher claims he wants to take things a step further. As TikTok's popularity grows, he feels it should be curtailed.

"We must consider whether we want the CCP to dominate what is on the verge of becoming America's most powerful media organization," he told NBC. Gallagher backed the ban on TikTok on government devices and stated that the US should "nationally broaden that restriction."

The business has been accused of filtering politically sensitive information for the Chinese government, including blocking certain accounts that wrote about China's enormous incarceration facilities in the western province of Xinjiang. According to the US State Department, these camps have incarcerated up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

"What if they start restricting the news? "What if they start manipulating the algorithm to decide what the CCP thinks is suitable to print?" Gallagher said, drawing parallels between the KGB and Pravda purchasing The New York Times and other major publications during the Cold War.

TikTok has been identified as a possible national security danger by US policymakers, and opponents have said that ByteDance might be forced by Chinese authorities to pass over TikTok data related to US residents or operate as a conduit for hostile influence activities. According to security experts, the data might help China to find intelligence possibilities or influence Americans through misinformation efforts.

There is no indication that this occurred, despite the business disclosing last month that it dismissed four workers who unlawfully accessed the TikTok user data of two journalists on the site.

However, TikTok has hundreds of millions of downloads in the United States, and the hugely significant social media network has helped numerous online producers develop businesses and careers. TikTok's popularity is growing to the point where it may be too huge to prohibit.

Developing a Resolution

TikTok has been talking with the US government on a potential arrangement to alleviate national security concerns and keep the service open to US users since 2020. According to TikTok, the proposed deal addresses "important issues about corporate governance, content recommendation and moderation, and data security and access." The company has also taken various organizational and technological initiatives to separate US user data from other elements of TikTok's operations.

However, an apparent lack of progress in the discussions has prompted some TikTok detractors, including members of Congress and state legislatures, to call for the app to be banned from government devices and maybe more generally.

On "Meet the Press," Gallagher stated that he would be open to selling TikTok to an American corporation but that "the devil is in the details." "I don't think this should be a party issue," he added.

When asked about Russia's investment in Telegram and Saudi Arabia's investment in Twitter, Gallagher stated that his "overarching concern, which both of these are part of, is where we see authoritarian governments exploiting technology to exert total control over their citizens" referring to it as "techno-totalitarian control."

Gallagher called for "reciprocity," adding that although Chinese authorities are permitted on applications like Twitter, Chinese individuals are not. He proposed a deal: "if your government does not allow your folks access to the platform, we would deny your government personnel access to the same platform."

"The government cannot nurture or safeguard your children, but there are certain reasonable things we can do to foster a healthy social media ecology.” Gallagher explained

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