by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
TikTok just unveiled an “Elections Center” that will put detailed voter profiles in the hands of a company based in Beijing, stocked with party members and state employees, subject to laws that allow the Chinese government data access. Given the Chinese Communist Party’s influence over ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, China could exercise enormous control over the midterm elections with this data. What’s worse is that American institutions are actively encouraging TikTok to do this.
By law, ByteDance is required to give China access to its data upon request. TikTok claims such requests would be rejected, but there is no way to know whether that’s true. We do, however, know that members of the CCP actually work for ByteDance. We also know TikTok’s data has been accessed in China, despite the company’s claims. Finally, we know TikTok is currently the most popular social network in America.
Last week, TikTok boasted in a press release about the creation of its new Elections Center. The center will influence American elections on two fronts: by providing voter information and countering “misinformation.” The first front means TikTok will have voting profiles on all American users who click through the Elections Center, and the second front means a Chinese company will be policing our political discourse on the single most popular social network.
According to TikTok, the center will “connect people who engage with election content to authoritative information and sources in more than 45 languages.” That may sound lovely, but it means when users select their state and click “register to vote,” TikTok can now cross-reference their location and interest in voting with their age, political leanings, and other attributes that can be gleaned from its vast trove of data.