Sen. Marco Rubio called for the U.S. government to launch an investigation into TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media app that’s become the latest teen obsession, over concerns that it’s censoring content to placate Beijing’s government.
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In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Florida Republican asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to launch a broad review of TikTok’s acquisition of Musical.ly over national security concerns. In 2017, Bytedance, the parent company of TikTok, purchased Musical.ly Inc., the popular lip-syncing video app that already had a rabid fan base in the U.S. The two apps then merged together; since then, they’ve amassed a staggering 1 billion users worldwide.
“There continues to be ample and growing evidence that TikTok’s platform for Western markets, including those in the U.S., is censoring content that is not in line with the Chinese government and Communist Party directs,” Rubio wrote in the letter.
He was seemingly referencing a report in The Guardian last month, which outlined how TikTok censors videos that mention Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence or the banned religious group Falun Gong — and how the app tries to advance Chinese foreign policy aims.
In a statement to FOX Business, a TikTok spokesperson said the company's content and moderation policies are led by its U.S.-based team and not "influenced by any foreign government."
"The Chinese government does not request that TikTok censor content, and would not have jurisdiction regardless, as TikTok does not operate there," the spokesperson said.
Information filed with CFIUS may not be disclosed to the public, a Treasury Department spokesperson said.
In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Rubio called on the 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.”
Rubio’s call follows unprecedented pressure from China on American companies, including the NBA and gaming company Activision Blizzard, to fall in line with the communist government’s stance on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The protests, now in their 18th week, began earlier this summer over a now-shelved bill that would have allowed the extradition of suspected criminals from Hong Kong to mainland China, where the courts are controlled by the Communist Party. They’ve since morphed to reflect broader calls for reform.
“TV networks,airlines,hotel chains,retailers & Hollywood already self censor,” Rubio said in a separate tweet. “Now private citizens risk losing their jobs if they offend China.”
Rubio’s criticism of TikTok, and by extension the Chinese government, comes amid inflamed U.S.-China trade tensions. Top diplomats, including Mnuchin, are meeting in Washington, D.C. on Thursday to continue negotiations.