We must stop China from using TikTok against America

Most Americans have never heard of ByteDance, but they know its product: The technology company owns TikTok and curates the app’s video feeds for 170 million American users.

But ByteDance isn’t a normal company. It’s controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, by law and corporate structure.

China’s totalitarian regime passed a sweeping national security law in 2017 that gave it the authority to compel any action by any Chinese corporation, ByteDance included.

It also owns a “golden share” of ByteDance’s stock, meaning the former government official on the board can outvote every other board member. Beijing’s control over this company is absolute.

And while TikTok may be headquartered in the United States, ByteDance engineers in China own and operate the app’s algorithm.

They use artificial intelligence to profile TikTok users’ preferences, beliefs, behavior, and values. In a way, ByteDance gets to know TikTok users better than they know themselves.

So if Chinese officials tell the company to use the app against its users, ByteDance has the power to do it — and no choice but to comply.

Does that sound farfetched? Think again. Over the past few years, ByteDance has reportedly spied on American journalists, boosted Democratic candidates in American elections, promoted Osama bin Laden’s letter justifying 9/11, skewed political opinion in favor of Hamas, and accessed Americans’ driver’s licenses, physical addresses, device IDs, tax information and Social Security numbers — all through its ownership of TikTok.

We would never allow the Chinese Communist Party to own and ultimately control The New York Post or Fox News.

So why should we tolerate Beijing’s ownership and control over TikTok, from which a third of American adults under 30 allegedly get their news?

The answer is simple: We shouldn’t.

This isn’t the first time the issue has come up on Capitol Hill. I raised concerns about where it could go back in 2019 when it became apparent the Chinese Communist Party could — and almost certainly would — weaponize TikTok against America.

A year and a half ago, Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) joined me to introduce the first bill to ban the app.

TikTok has since flooded Washington with well-connected lobbyists and poured millions of dollars into a self-protective political campaign.

But congressional opposition to the app’s China ties has only grown broader and stronger. It’s one of those rare occasions when common sense appears to be winning out over corporate arm-twisting.

The House of Representatives just voted overwhelmingly to approve legislation that would force TikTok and ByteDance to separate or else Tiktok would be banned.

Now the bill heads to the Senate, where Mark Warner (D-Va.) and I, the leaders of the Select Committee on Intelligence, are going to do everything we can to get it passed and signed into law.

I understand many Americans are concerned about this measure. Perhaps they see rumors online that this bill would give the government the power to ban American companies or curtail the right to free speech.

Those rumors are completely false. I want to be perfectly clear: The issue on the table is not how Americans are using TikTok but how ByteDance is using the app on Beijing’s behalf.

This bill would not stop people from doing everything they like to do on TikTok on a different app instead.

In fact, it wouldn’t stop TikTok from continuing to operate in the United States, provided it separates from ByteDance.

The only thing this bill would change is the ability of a foreign adversary to spy on and manipulate the American people.

That change is both necessary and urgent. Earlier this month, TikTok demonstrated its ability to interfere in our political process by sending tens of millions of users a push notification directing them: “Call your representative now” and protest the app’s separation from China.

Imagine if the Chinese Communist Party used similar tactics to tip the scales against Donald Trump in a second presidential term or blame the United States for COVID-19?

Allowing ByteDance to continue owning and operating TikTok is too dangerous. It would threaten our national independence and our personal liberty alike.

Every American lawmaker should support forcing the app to separate from Beijing. If we don’t stand up for our nation this time, when will we?

Marco Rubio represents Florida in the US Senate.

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