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National Security & Defense

Cotton, Schumer Call for Probe into Chinese App TikTok

Sen. Tom Cotton speaks with reporters in Washington, D.C. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Senators Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) sent a joint letter late Wednesday to acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire asking him to determine whether Chinese social media app TikTok poses a national security risk.

TikTok allows users to share short videos of themselves, generally singing or dancing, and has an enormous worldwide following among teenagers. On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that ISIS has been using the app to share propaganda videos, and has even uploaded clips of prisoner beheadings.

“With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” Cotton and Schumer wrote. “Given these concerns, we ask that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the U.S. and brief Congress on these findings.”

The Senators wrote that the app collects a wide range of data including the locations of its users. While that data is stored in the U.S., Cotton and Schumer pointed out that TikTok “is still required to adhere to the laws of China,” which could “compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok denied the Senators’ allegations in a blog post on Thursday.

“”TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China,” the post read. “We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period.”

On September 25, the Guardian revealed it was in possession of leaked documents that outlined how the Chinese government censors content on the app. TikTok’s moderation policies forbid any content relating to Tibetan independence or Tiananmen Square, and block any mention of a list of world leaders including Donald Trump and Barack Obama–allowing, however, mentions of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

A search for Hong Kong on the app conducted by the Washington Post revealed very little content with almost no signs of unrest, in contrast to other social media platforms that show videos of Hong Kong pro-democracy protests.

Meanwhile, TikTok’s American-based rival app Triller announced on Wednesday that it had raised $28 million in a Series B round and was currently valued at $130 million.

While Triller touts 13 million monthly active users, far less than TikTok, the app has gained prominence in the U.S. music industry and is popular with hip-hop artists like DJ Khaled and Tyga.

Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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