Report: China Demanded Stealth TikTok Account for Propaganda to West

Indian mobile users browses through the Chinese owned video-sharing 'Tik Tok' app on a smartphones in Amritsar on June 30, 2020. - TikTok on June 30 denied sharing information on Indian users with the Chinese government, after New Delhi banned the wildly popular app citing national security and privacy concerns. …
NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images

Bloomberg News reported on Friday that internal messages from executives at TikTok, the Chinese-owned video blogging platform, revealed demands from the Chinese government to establish a stealth account to push Chinese Communist Party propaganda to American and European audiences.

According to Bloomberg, the Chinese government’s demand was “met with pushback from TikTok executives,” in part because they are sensitive to allegations the social media platform and its owner ByteDance are already too closely aligned with Beijing:

In an April 2020 message addressed to Elizabeth Kanter, TikTok’s head of government relations for the UK, Ireland, Netherlands and Israel, a colleague flagged a “Chinese government entity that’s interested in joining TikTok but would not want to be openly seen as a government account as the main purpose is for promoting content that showcase the best side of China (some sort of propaganda).”

The messages indicate that some of ByteDance’s most senior government relations team, including Kanter and US-based Erich Andersen, Global Head of Corporate Affairs and General Counsel, discussed the matter internally but pushed back on the request, which they described as “sensitive.” TikTok used the incident to spark an internal discussion about other sensitive requests, the messages state.

A TikTok representative told Bloomberg the “informal request from a friend of an employee” was declined because the platform has rules against “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

The internal messages included mention of the Chinese government paying TikTok for setting up its desired stealth account, which does not sound like an “informal request.”

TikTok already permits several Chinese government entities to openly use the platform, although the spokeswoman who talked to Bloomberg said the management is thinking about more clearly labeling state-run media accounts. The Chinese version of TikTok, which is called Douyin, is overrun with Communist Party groups and propaganda operations.

TikTok has been scrutinized for working with the malignant Chinese state on several occasions. In September 2020, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) found evidence that platforms like TikTok and WeChat were inflicting Chinese Communist Party censorship on their users, including hot-button issues like the Uyghur genocide, the oppression of Tibet, and the crackdown on Falun Gong. TikTok denied the allegations.

In August 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order that said TikTok’s data collection practices threatened to “allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.”

Trump’s executive order also mentioned TikTok’s censorship practices on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party and threatened to ban the platform entirely in the United States.

In February 2022, an independent study found TikTok was harvesting huge amounts of personal data from its users, who were unable to see the data mining was occurring, or tell where their information was being sent.

In June 2022, leaked internal memos confirmed something TikTok management had long denied: user data was being accessed by the platform’s Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance. “Everything is seen in China,” one TikTok employee said in the memos.

TikTok constantly denies it is supplying harvested American user data to the Chinese government, but as critics point out, every Chinese corporation is legally required to instantly, fully, and quietly comply with demands for cooperation from the People’s Liberation Army.

Another concern about TikTok is the algorithm it uses to push content to its users, many of whom are children. 

In addition to potentially pushing Chinese Communist propaganda, TikTok has been accused of feeding dangerous content to young users, such as videos of the self-strangulation “blackout challenge,” which has killed several grade-school children who decided to join the game by uploading videos of strangling themselves unconscious.

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