TikTok is one of the largest social media platforms on the web. The video-sharing app has over 1 billion users worldwide, and last year, it dethroned Google as the internet’s most visited website domain. However, the platform was also a source of controversy when then-US President Donald Trump attempted to ban the app over perceived national security risks.
This discourse might resume now that the Chinese government controls a stake in TikTok’s parent company ByteDance. While this partial ownership will not necessarily affect the TikTok app or user experience, it is one part of a more significant push for greater state control over the country’s growing technology sector.
It’s worth noting that China’s stake in ByteDance is still relatively small, granting the state only one percent ownership over the company. However, the Chinese government also has more direct influence than its small stake would imply. The company’s subsidiary, Beijing ByteDance Technology Co. Ltd., operates an app called Douyin, which serves as the country’s regional equivalent of TikTok. In addition to their part-ownership, the Chinese government now controls one of the three seats on the subsidiary’s board of directors. While the Chinese government has long exercised an extreme level of social media censorship, this change gives the state an unusual degree of direct control over the company’s decision-making.
This is not the first instance of ByteDance displaying a close relationship with the Chinese government. In 2019, The Washington Post reported that searching #HongKong on TikTok returned very few results related to the then-ongoing protests in the city. The publication also found that TikTok imposed strict restrictions on its user’s speech. However, ByteDance pushed back on both accusations. The company claims that an American moderation team sets its US moderation policies without Chinese government interference. ByteDance also contended that the lack of protest-related videos was simply because users come to TikTok for fun, apolitical content.
Regardless, ByteDance denies that the Chinese government’s part-ownership will lead to any changes to TikTok. The company’s spokesperson Hilary McQuaide declined to comment directly on the Chinese government’s involvement with the company but stated it “isn’t relevant” to TikTok. However, it may lead American policymakers to take an even closer look at the already heavily scrutinized video-sharing platform. While a judge blocked President Trump’s TikTok ban, American political leaders remain suspicious of the platform.
Talking to The Washington Post, Duke University’s Matt Perault indicated that China’s stake in ByteDance doesn’t automatically mean that it poses any additional security risks. However, the perception of danger may be enough to result in US politicians taking further action against TikTok or ByteDance in general. “Scrutiny and skepticism about Chinese firms operating in the US is a bipartisan issue,” said Perault.
Source: The Washington Post