Tik Tok logo is displayed on the smartphone while standing on the U.S. flag in this illustration picture taken, November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group of top Republican U.S. Senators on Tuesday ramped up pressure on TikTok, asking the Trump administration to assess the threat that the popular Chinese-owned video sharing app might meddle in U.S. elections.
In a letter dated Tuesday, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and other lawmakers cited alleged censorship by TikTok of sensitive content, including a video critical of China’s treatment of Uighur minorities, as well as alleged attempts by Beijing to manipulate political discussions on social media apps.
“We are greatly concerned that the (Chinese Communist Party) could use its control over TikTok to distort or manipulate (political) conversations to sow discord among Americans and to achieve its preferred political outcomes,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the director of national intelligence, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
TikTok, the FBI, DHS and the DNI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The lawmakers, joined by Republicans Ted Cruz, Joni Ernst Thom Tilis, Kevin Cramer and Rick Scott, asked the officials to say whether Beijing could amplify certain political views and conduct influence operations through the popular app, which is owned by Beijing ByteDance Technology Co.
“If evidence emerges of CCP electoral interference via TikTok, would ByteDance be eligible for sanctions?” under an executive order on foreign electoral influence, the lawmakers asked.
TikTok is in the crosshairs of the Trump administration as U.S.-China ties have soured over the pandemic and Beijing’s move to curb freedoms in Hong Kong. This month, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said action was imminent to address national security risks posed by TikTok.
Trump’s poll numbers have been sagging as he prepares to face Democrat Joe Biden in the November election. In 2019, special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report found extensive cases of Russian meddling that benefited the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.
Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by David Gregorio