Republicans raise concerns TikTok could be used by Chinese government interfere in elections

Republicans raise concerns TikTok could be used by Chinese government interfere in elections
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A group of Republican senators led by Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonGOP brushes back charges of hypocrisy in Supreme Court fight Trump uses bin Laden raid to attack Biden Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Ark.) on Tuesday raised concerns that popular social media app TikTok could be used by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to spread disinformation around U.S. elections.

The lawmakers – who also included Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump argues full Supreme Court needed to settle potential election disputes Press: Notorious RBG vs Notorious GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy MORE (R-Texas), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers Democrats step up hardball tactics as Supreme Court fight heats up Press: Notorious RBG vs Notorious GOP MORE (R-Fla.), Kevin CramerKevin John CramerMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day On Paycheck Protection Program, streamlined forgiveness is key McConnell shores up GOP support for coronavirus package MORE (R-N.D.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA head questions connection of climate change to natural disasters | Pebble Mine executives eye future expansion in recorded conversations | EPA questions science linking widely used pesticide to brain damage in children Liberal super PAC launches ads targeting vulnerable GOP senators over SCOTUS fight MORE (R-N.C.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting Liberal super PAC launches ads targeting vulnerable GOP senators over SCOTUS fight Romney backs pre-election Supreme Court vote, paving way for McConnell, Trump MORE (R-Iowa) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) – wrote to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence raising concerns that the app could be used by China to interfere in American elections. 

“TikTok has become a popular forum for Americans—particularly younger Americans—to engage in political conversations,” Cotton and his colleagues wrote. “I’m greatly concerned that the CCP could use its control over TikTok to distort or manipulate these conversations to sow discord among Americans and to achieve its preferred political outcomes.”

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TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, which is subject to Chinese intelligence laws, an issue that has increasingly led to questions over the security and privacy of American data stored by the app. The company has taken steps to separate itself from China, including hiring an American CEO and moving the storage of American data to the U.S. 

But the senators still warned that the CCP could use the app for its purposes, noting that TikTok temporarily locked a teen’s account last year after the individual posted a video critical of the CCP’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. 

“Chinese government officials increasingly use Western social-media companies, including those banned in China, to flood global social media with propaganda and misinformation,” the senators warned. 

They asked that the agencies respond to questions around whether TikTok could be subject to sanctions if disinformation efforts are found on its platform, and whether the app could serve as a tool for the CCP to interfere in U.S. elections. 

A spokesperson for TikTok told The Hill that "TikTok isn't the go-to app to follow political news or candidates, but we're taking cues from the experience of our peers during the last US presidential election and proactively investing to safeguard our app."

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The spokesperson noted that TikTok does not accept political ads, and pointed to the company's community guidelines, which ban content intended to "deceive or mislead," with content posted by disinformation campaigns removed from the platform. 

"Our content and moderation policies are led by our US-based team in California and aren't influenced by any foreign government," the TikTok spokesperson said. "We invite lawmakers to visit our virtual Transparency Center where they can see firsthand how we moderate and recommend content."

The letter was sent days after a top intelligence official warned that China, Russia, and Iran were seeking to interfere in American elections, with China using “influence efforts to shape the policy environment” including the presidential race. 

The senators were not alone Tuesday in raising concerns over TikTok. 

Staffers on the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: 'This is my country' Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate Trump attacks Omar for criticizing US: 'How did you do where you came from?' MORE were told Tuesday to either delete TikTok from their phones and to not download the app in the future.

A campaign official told The Hill Tuesday that the request was made following guidance from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which according to CNN sent out guidance to its staff earlier this month warning them not to use TikTok due to its potential ties to the Chinese government. The Republican National Committee (RNC) has also advised staff not to use the app on their personal devices, citing security risks. 

The Trump administration has stepped up efforts against TikTok in recent weeks as well, with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers Overnight Defense: House Democrats unveil stopgap spending measure to GOP opposition | Bill includes .6B for new subs | Trump issues Iran sanctions after world shrugs at US action at UN Navalny calls on Russia to return clothes he was wearing when he fell ill MORE saying earlier this month that the administration was exploring banning Chinese apps including TikTok due to concerns about data being shared with the CCP.

-Updated at 9:45 p.m. to include input from TikTok.