Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has called for a national security panel to review TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co’s purchase of lip-syncing app Musical.ly over fears that the Chinese government is using TikTok to censor political content.
Reuters reports that Sen. Marco Rubio has called on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to review the acquisition of social media app Musical.ly by TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co. over claims that TikTok is used by the Chinese government to censor certain political content.
Rubio stated in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that Chinese-owned apps “are increasingly being used to censor content and silence open discussion on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese Government and Communist Party.” The Treasury secretary heads the CFIUS, which reviews mergers such as that of Musical.ly and TikTok to ensure that they do not damage national security.
Rubio stated that there was evidence that TikTok in the United States was censoring political content that was “not in line” with the Chinese government. Rubio stated that China “is using these apps to advance their foreign policy and globally suppress freedom of speech, expression, and other freedoms that we as Americans so deeply cherish.” In one example, TikTok has blacklisted popular Christian app pray.com from advertising on its app.
A spokesperson for TikTok clarified tha the firm stores all of its U.S. user data in the United States. “The Chinese government does not request that TikTok censor content, and would not have jurisdiction regardless, as TikTok does not operate there,” the spokesperson stated.
David Hanke, an attorney with Arent Fox who helped craft a legislative overhaul of the committee last year, stated that “It wouldn’t be shocking, but it would be atypical,” for CFIUS to review the merger. He added: “It also would not be the first time CFIUS has blazed new trails over China-specific concerns.”
ByteDance purchased Musical.ly for almost $1 billion in December 2017, eventually shutting the app down and revamping its own TikTok app to replace it. The company’s original app is called Douyin and is similar to TikTok but is only available in China where it complies with local censorship laws.