30 House Republicans write to TikTok chief over cartels using app to organize smuggling, stalk Border Patrol

TikTok has faced criticism over its data practices

EXCLUSIVE: 30 House Republicans are urging the head of TikTok to crack down on illicit activity on the popular social app after cartels at the southern border have been using it to organize smuggling -- and even stalk Border Patrol agents.

"We are deeply troubled by media reports that cartels are brazenly recruiting people to conduct smuggling and other illicit activity via TikTok," the letter to CEO Shouzi Chew from 30 Republicans, led by House Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member John Katko, said.


The letter cites reporting, including from Fox News, that cartels are using the app to glorify illegal activity and recruit new members. Foreign Policy reported that videos featuring guns and violence, as part of what has become known as "Cartel TikTok," have racked up millions of views online -- including the U.S -- and have been used to recruit members.

Meanwhile, images obtained by Fox News showed the ads cartels are using on social media apps like TikTok, where they offer more than $3,000 a ride for teens and young adults to come drive smuggled migrants into the U.S. when they reach the border.

"Need two or three drivers to go through a checkpoint," one says.

"Got another six left, already crossed. Lemme know ASAP for that easy cash," another says.

If they take it, their job is to get migrants through checkpoints and then to a drop-off location such as a store parking lot, where the migrants are then picked up by someone trusted by the cartel and transferred to stash houses scattered along the border.

Sources told Fox News that the recruited kids often use their parents’ SUVs to make these trips to ferry migrants, without them knowing. One teenager’s mother, a nurse, started crying when she got a call from authorities about the business her daughter was conducting. But with authorities so overwhelmed, teens are often getting little more than a slap on the wrist.

Separately, the House Republicans say that a post identified by law enforcement, and reviewed by members, features an armed cartel member threatening and stalking Border Patrol agents.

"It appears that via your platform cartel members are openly glorifying and normalizing illegal behavior and violence to recruit new members, most recently American teenagers," the letter says.

They note that such activity is in violation of the app’s Terms of Service and that "cartels advertising their illegal activities on TikTok is not being adequately addressed internally."

A TikTok spokesperson told Fox News: "TikTok strictly prohibits the promotion or facilitation of criminal activities, and we work with third-party intelligence firms to bolster identification of potential trafficking or smuggling and make reports to law enforcement as appropriate."

The lawmakers note separate reporting about how TikTok has significant control over its content, with executives determining which videos go viral, and which videos appear on recommendations.


"The level of data manipulation, curation and apparent corporate support for major users discussed in the article is startling," they say. "With such control, TikTok should be able to eradicate the cartel activities outlined above from the platform."

The lawmakers request information from the tech company about its efforts to crack down on illegal activity by such groups, and the mechanisms in use to engage with federal agencies on the matter.