Some House Republicans are stepping up to demand increased transparency from the social media giant TikTok with a focus on the Chinese-owned platform’s alleged role in amplifying antisemitic content and the extent of China’s involvement in these processes.
Led by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), the group is taking TikTok to task for its handling of content related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a letter addressed to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, they put forward their deep concerns about the platform’s impact since the brutal October 7 attack by the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas, which claimed the lives of more than 1,400 people.
The letter accuses TikTok of allowing disinformation related to the conflict to flourish, pushing antisemitism, and garnering support for Hamas.
It further pointed out that content flagged as pro-Palestinian on TikTok seemed to receive far more widespread attention than videos supporting Israel. This raised concerns about the platform’s influence on younger generations, who mostly rely on social media for news.
“Many of the younger generations are turning to TikTok for their news, rather than relying on search engines and other verified sources. TikTok has led them to believe it’s an ‘unfiltered’ news source,” the GOP lawmakers noted, as they are demanding to know how the platform checks for misinformation and anti-Israel content as well as what informs its algorithms.
Adding to the worries of the lawmakers as well as many Americans is TikTok’s connection to China, with its parent company, ByteDance, which is based in Beijing. While TikTok has previously claimed that the Chinese government doesn’t control the platform, former employees have reported that China has access to American user data and plays a significant role in decision-making and product development.
The letter from the lawmakers highlights this control and cites troubling reports of privacy and data security breaches, including the monitoring of American journalists’ locations. This raises concerns that TikTok might be used by the Chinese Communist Party not only as a tool for surveillance but also for manipulation.
Now, the House Republicans want to know how many TikTok employees have connections to ByteDance.
The stakes are high, as approximately half of TikTok’s U.S. user base is under 25 years old and, therefore, impressionable.
“This deluge of pro-Hamas content is driving hateful antisemitic rhetoric and violent protests on campuses across the country. The CCP has already co-opted your platform, and it seems TikTok and TikTok’s employees are resigned to becoming a mouthpiece for antisemites, terrorists, and propaganda,” the letter reads.
In the eyes of these lawmakers, TikTok is at risk of becoming a mouthpiece for antisemites, terrorists, and propaganda, and they’re determined to hold the platform accountable.
Their move comes less than a week after TikTok faced a storm of criticism for facilitating a surge in viral videos expressing support for Osama bin Laden’s infamous “Letter to America,” written in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.
The letter, laden with anti-Western and anti-Semitic rhetoric, attempts to justify the attacks, which tragically claimed the lives of roughly 3,000 Americans, and many young users disturbingly expressed support for the notorious terrorist. According to one person, the letter had left them in an “existential crisis.”
Over the past 24 hours, thousands of TikToks (at least) have been posted where people share how they just read Bin Laden’s infamous "Letter to America," in which he explained why he attacked the United States.
The TikToks are from people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and… pic.twitter.com/EwjiGtFEE3
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) November 16, 2023
TikTok claimed that such content “clearly violates our rules on supporting any form of terrorism” and pledged to remove it. However, the company also defended itself by noting that the number of such videos on TikTok is relatively small, and reports of them trending on the platform are inaccurate.