TikTok, the app that revolves around sharing short video clips, is in a unique position. It’s arguably the first international social media platform to have built a massive audience in the United States, where it’s been downloaded more than 110 million times since its founding in 2017. TikTok has offices in California near competitors like Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube, but it’s owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech giant. As tensions between the US and China continue to escalate, that fact has become a headache for TikTok. Now the company is taking steps to distance itself publicly from its counterparts in Beijing.
This week, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) sent a letter to US intelligence officials asking them to investigate whether TikTok poses “national security risks.” In their letter, sent to Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, the senators expressed concern about the data TikTok collects on US users and whether that information could potentially be shared with the Chinese Communist Party. They also questioned whether Tiktok censors content on its platform and said the app is a “potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore.”
It wasn’t the first time this month that lawmakers have questioned the security and content moderation practices of TikTok. Two weeks ago, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) called for the Committee on Foreign Investment to investigate ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly, a lip-syncing app popular in the US that was later merged with TikTok. On Twitter, Rubio said he was concerned TikTok is “censoring content in line with #China’s communist government directives.”