TikTok is ‘digital fentanyl,’ says GOP China committee chairman | CNN Business
TikTok is an addictive drug that China’s government is providing to Americans, says the incoming chairman of a new House Select Committee on China.
Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin told NBC’s “Meet The Press” in an interview that aired Sunday that he calls TikTok “digital fentanyl” because “it’s highly addictive and destructive and we’re seeing troubling data about the corrosive impact of constant social networks.” use, especially in young men and women here in America,” and also because it “actually goes back to the Chinese Communist Party.”
Gallagher, who has been nominated by House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy to chair the new select committee in the new Congress, has said he believes the video app should be banned in the United States. (McCarthy is the clear favorite to become speaker of the House when the new session begins on Tuesday, although he does not yet have enough vote pledges to be elected on the floor.)
TikTok, whose Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance, has been banned from electronic devices managed by the US House of Representatives, according to an internal notice sent to House staff. Separately, the US government will ban TikTok from all federal devices as part of legislation included in the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill that President Joe Biden signed into law last week. The move comes after more than a dozen states in recent weeks have implemented their own bans against TikTok on government devices.
TikTok has previously called efforts to ban the app from government devices “a political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests.” TikTok declined to comment on the House restrictions.
Gallagher says he wants to go further. As TikTok grows in popularity, he believes it should be controlled.
“We have to ask ourselves if we want the CCP to control what is about to become the most powerful media company in America,” he told NBC. Gallagher supported the ban on TikTok on government devices and said the United States should “expand this ban nationally.”
The company has been accused of censoring content politically sensitive to the Chinese government, including banning some accounts that posted about China’s mass detention camps in its western region of Xinjiang. The US State Department estimates that up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities have been detained in these camps.
“And if they start censoring the news, right? What if they start tweaking the algorithm to determine what the CCP deems fit to print,” Gallagher warned, drawing an analogy with the KGB and Pravda’s purchase of The New York Times and other major newspapers during the height of the War cold
U.S. policymakers have cited TikTok as a potential national security risk, and critics have said Chinese authorities could compel ByteDance to hand over TikTok data pertaining to U.S. citizens or act as a conduit for operations of malignant influence. Security experts have said the data could allow China to identify intelligence opportunities or try to influence Americans through disinformation campaigns.
There is no evidence that this actually happened, although the company confirmed last month that it fired four employees who improperly accessed the TikTok user data of two journalists on the platform.
But TikTok has hundreds of millions of downloads in the U.S., and the highly influential social media platform has helped countless online creators build brands and livelihoods. As it grows in popularity, TikTok may have grown too big to ban.
Since 2020, TikTok has been negotiating with the US government for a possible deal to resolve national security concerns and allow the app to be available to US users. TikTok has said the potential settlement under review covers “key concerns about corporate governance, content recommendation and moderation, and data security and access.” The company has also taken steps to cut off US user data, organizationally and technologically, from other parts of TikTok’s business.
But an apparent lack of progress in the talks has led some of TikTok’s critics, including in Congress and at the state level, to push for the app to be banned from government devices and potentially more broadly.
Gallagher told “Meet the Press” that he would be open to selling TikTok to an American company, but “the devil is in the details.” He continued, “I don’t think this should be a partisan issue.”
When asked about Russia’s investment in Telegram and the Saudi investment in Twitter, Gallagher said his “broader concern, which they are both part of, is where we see authoritarian governments exploiting technology to exert control total on its citizens”. it is “techno-totalitarian control”.
Gallagher also called for “reciprocity,” noting that Chinese officials can access apps like Twitter, but Chinese citizens are not allowed access to those same apps. He said he would like to see an agreement under which “if your government does not allow its citizens access to the platform, we will deny your government officials access to the same platform.”
“The government can’t raise your kids, it can’t protect your kids for you,” Gallagher said, “but there are certain sensible things we can do to create a healthier social media ecosystem.”