AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Shirley
Despite a wealth of evidence suggesting that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using TikTok to spy on and even socially program American citizens, the popular social media app is continuing to gain users at breakneck speed. One big reason why could be the enormous sums of money the app’s parent company is spending on lobbying and advertising.
According to a Wall Street Journal report published on January 30, TikTok “spent $1.5 billion building an operation intended to convince U.S. lawmakers that the popular video-sharing app is safe.” Moreover, according to Open Secrets, TikTok parent company ByteDance “spent more in the first three quarters of 2023 than any prior year” on lobbying efforts. In total, they spent over $7.4 million in 2023. From Q3 2022 to Q3 2023, the platform increased its lobbying spending by 326 percent.
At the same time, TikTok has launched a massive national advertising campaign to build its popularity with the American people. Although exact numbers have not been made public, the website TvRev reported that the company has “focused heavily on cable news networks and broadcast in that timeframe as well. Fox News is the No. 1 network by share of TikTok TV ad impressions since June 1, with 18.9%, while CNN is No. 2 at 15.2%. CBS, Fox, ABC, and MSNBC are all among the top 10 as well.”
In one ironic incident that made headlines, during the Republican presidential primary debate hosted by Fox News, a question posed to candidates about whether or not to ban TikTok was followed immediately by a TikTok commercial.
Those advertising and lobbying dollars appear to be quite effective, too. According to a Pew poll released on January 31, TikTok is growing faster than any other social media platform in the United States. 33 percent of American adults polled said they used TikTok in 2023, an increase of 12 percent since 2021.
That increase is being driven in large part by exponential growth among young adults. 62 percent of those surveyed between the ages of 18 and 29 said they have used TikTok, compared to 39 percent of 30 to 39-year-olds, 24 percent of 50 to 64-year-olds, and 10 percent of adults 65 and older.
Moreover, these numbers don’t even take into account the number of Americans on the platform who are under 18. An estimated 25 percent of TikTok’s roughly 100 million monthly U.S. users are between the ages of 10 and 19.
TikTok’s meteoric growth has raised serious concerns about both data privacy and the possibility that the CCP could be using the app to negatively influence American users.
As a Chinese company, ByteDance is required to report any and all data it collects to the Chinese Communist Party under the provisions of a 2017 Chinese law. That means that the CCP could be using TikTok to collect troves of data on millions of American citizens, including personal information such as their address and phone number.
These concerns led to a TikTok ban on all federal devices last year, and a number of states – led by both Republicans and Democrats – have followed suit.
But it’s not just privacy concerns that have led to push-back on the platform. Numerous studies have also found that TikTok pushes harmful content to kids, including videos that promote eating disorders and even suicide.
Dozens of American kids have also been hospitalized or even killed by dangerous trends on TikTok like the “blackout challenge” and “NyQuil chicken challenge.” Virtually every American user, no matter their age, is inundated with hyper-sexualized videos, many of which feature underage girls.
During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Senator Ted Cruz blasted TikTok for promoting “self-harm videos and anti-Israel propaganda” to American children. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew denied the accusations while touting the effective safety measures the platform employs.
However, according to tech experts, the Chinese version of TikTok, called Douyin, offers a version of the app that is far safer than the one pushed to Americans. Douyin’s platform limits use by children to 40 minutes per day and reportedly promotes educational content, rather than the destructive and harmful content peddled to American kids.
Given the ongoing power competition with China, many experts strongly believe the CCP is deliberately using TikTok as a psychological weapon against the American people.
There is now no denying that TikTok is becoming one of the most powerful cultural forces in our society – a development driven in large part by Chinese lobbying and advertising dollars. The question now is if lawmakers will have the courage to do something about it.
Andrew Shirley is a veteran speechwriter and AMAC Newsline columnist. His commentary can be found on X at @AA_Shirley.