- Marco Rubio, the US senator from Florida, has asked the US government to investigate TikTok, the globally popular short-form video app owned by a Chinese company.
- Rubio wrote on Twitter that there’s “ample and growing evidence” that TikTok censors content “in line with China’s communist government directives.”
- The Guardian reported last month on internal documents that show TikTok instructed moderators to censor content addressing political issues likely to anger the Chinese government.
- A TikTok spokesperson told Business Insider that the Chinese government does not ask the social app to censor content, and does not have the jurisdiction to do so because TikTok does not operate in China — its Chinese version of the app is called Douyin.
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US Senator Marco Rubio is calling on the federal government to investigate the popular video-sharing app TikTok based on “ample and growing evidence” that it’s censoring content at the request of China.
The senator’s request comes just a couple weeks after The Guardian reported on TikTok internal documents that directed platform moderators to censor content that was likely to anger the Chinese government — namely, videos criticizing China’s version of political policies and historical events, such as the Tiananmen Square protests.
Have already formally asked Trump administration to fully enforce anti-boycott laws that prohibit any U.S. person—including U.S. subsidiaries of Chinese companies from complying with foreign boycotts seeking to coerce U.S. companies to conform with #China’s government views.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 9, 2019
Rubio said he was directing his request to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a federal investigative group housed under the US Department of Treasury that reviews national security implications of foreign investments into the U.S. The committee declined to comment on the matter, citing its policy not to discuss specific cases.
The investment that Rubio is calling to be reviewed is ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly, a now-defunct US-born app that was incredibly similar to TikTok. ByteDance — a $75 billion company — bought Musical.ly back in November 2017 in a deal valued at $1 billion. It then shut down Musical.ly a year later in order to merge it with TikTok and launch the app in the US.
TikTok, essentially, doesn’t exist in China: Instead, ByteDance operates a similar app there called Douyin, while TikTok operates in international markets outside of the country.
In response to Rubio’s call to review TikTok, a TikTok spokesperson told Business Insider that the Chinese government does not request the platform censors content, and that it doesn’t have the “jurisdiction” to do so since TikTok doesn’t operate in China.
“TikTok US is localized, adheres to US laws, and stores all US user data in the US,” the TikTok spokesperson said. “Our content and moderation policies are led by our US-based team and are not influenced by any foreign government.”
The statement did not address, however, whether the US-based team’s moderation decisions are influenced by its China-based parent company, ByteDance.
The Guardian’s recent report about TikTok’s moderation guidelines has brought into question how TikTok is suppressing and censoring “highly controversial topics” likely to anger the Chinese government. That’s on top of reports from early September that while social media was flooded with images and posts about the massive protests taking place in Hong Kong, TikTok was suspiciously devoid of content showing unrest.