TikTok politics: How Trump prevailed over Biden in security debate over Chinese social app

Democrats now acknowledge former president was right to raise red flags, but in the meantime two years of public debate were lost.

Updated: November 26, 2022 - 5:08am

Call it the tale of two TikTok presidents. In familiar fashion, Donald Trump was originally ridiculed as president when he suggested the Chinese-owned TikTok social video app was a national security risk, only now to be validated two years later by the intelligence community.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden vowed to always heed the intelligence community, only to stray by promoting TikTok during the midterms as a political strategy and allowing his administration to bring some TikTok workers to the United States on special immigrant visas.

The extraordinary turnabout was solidified in the last few weeks when Democrat Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner declared that Trump was right, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr demanded a complete U.S. ban on the short-form video app, and FBI Director Christopher Wray warned the bureau believes China's Communist Party (CCP) could potentially use TikTok to influence American users or control their devices.

There's "plenty of reason by itself to be extremely concerned," Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee when asked about TikTok last week.

Two Republicans, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, just introduced a bill to ban social media companies like TikTok "that are effectively controlled by the CCP from operating in the United States."

The two-year delay in public acknowledgement about the concerns with TikTok is a textbook case of how anti-Trump establishment bias infects so many debates in America, even when national security is at risk, a key lawmaker on technology security issues told Just the News.

"Everybody, both on the defense side and on the commercial side, tells us about what the Chinese are doing, and how effective they're being," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told Just the News recently. "So, how did they get it wrong? They got it wrong by denying what they knew to be true. TikTok is such a good example where [the Chinese] turned it into a full spy tool, and fools signed up for it, even though it was designed to be a spy tool, and it's been an effective one."

The concern over TikTok and its China-based owner ByteDance stems from the realities of Beijing's legal system. China's national security laws can force foreign and domestic firms operating inside its borders to share their data with the government, raising fears of industrial or personal espionage from apps like TikTok.

ByteDance denies the Chinese communist government accesses any data collected by the social media app, insisting that Americans' user data is stored only in the United States. But in July it acknowledged that non-U.S. employees did in fact have access to U.S. user data and that it is trying to work with the Biden administration to address concerns about its data privacy policies.

"We are confident that we are on a path to fully satisfy all reasonable U.S. national security concerns," the company said in a statement earlier this month to National Public Radio.

When Trump first raised alarms about TikTok in 2020, he was roundly criticized in the establishment media. CNN actually ran a story declaring that the action set a "dangerous precedent for democracy." Late-night comics like NBC's Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers also brutally mocked the 45th president, and Trump was also challenged in court.

But Trump's concerns prompted the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to pressure ByteDance to divest from TikTok.

Biden subsequently hit the pause button on those enforcement actions, opting instead for more friendly negotiations with the social media app. The New York Times reported in September that CFIUS and TikTok had reached a preliminary agreement on safeguards that would satisfy the Biden administration.

But since that report, some of the most high-profile security experts in America have sounded the alarm, seeking much stronger protections against TikTok.

"This is not something you would normally hear me say, but Donald Trump was right on TikTok years ago," Warner said last month. "If your country uses Huawei, if your kids are on TikTok, if your population uses WeChat as a social media platform, the ability for China to have undue influence is, I think, a much greater challenge and a much more immediate threat than any kind of actual, armed conflict."

FCC Commissioner Carr pressed for a ban on TikTok, and the Rubio-Gallagher legislation was introduced to codify such a prohibition. "TikTok is a major threat to U.S. national security," the two lawmakers wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

Biden, meanwhile, began his administration with a promise to heed the concerns of the intelligence community. "You will never see a time, while I'm President of the United States, when my administration in any way tries to affect or alter your judgments about what you think the situation we face is," he declared.

But on TikTok, Biden has not shied away despite increasing intelligence community warnings. His Democratic Party aggressively used it to woo young voters during the midterm elections. And Biden himself spent an hour last month at the White House with eight TikTok influencers, reaching millions on the platform with his midterm message.

The Democratic reliance has some Trump supporters crying foul on what they see as hypocrisy.

"It does not surprise you at all that once again, Joe Biden is using something that the Chinese Communist Party would love him to use," Trump national spokeswoman Elizabeth Harrington told Just the News. "So it's clearly an issue, and President Trump was definitely steadfast on this. … It is a cultural war, and we have to meet it head on."

There are also concerns about foreign workers brought into the United States. Sen Tom Cotton wrote a letter earlier this month disclosing that the Homeland Security Department approved more than 570 H-1B visas for foreign nationals to work in Chinese parent company ByteDance's California offices, where they can access sensitive data about U.S. users.

Meanwhile some states are looking to take matters in their own hands, worried that Biden might capitulate to the Chinese-owned company.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, part of team of state attorneys general that successfully pursued Google for data privacy issues, told Just the News he is exploring liigation against TikTok right now.

"We're taking a very hard look at companies like TikTok, at least the U.S. company," Wilson told the "Just the News, No Noise" television show. "It's a Chinese-owned application, but we are looking at the American subsidiary, and we're working with other states around the country, other AG offices around the country.

"I tell people all the time, it's bad enough that Big Tech is that far into into your personal lives and your personal history. But a Big Tech company that is owned by the Chinese government is really scary." 

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