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Chinese gov’t pushed anti-GOP propaganda on TikTok before midterms

TikTok, owned by China-based ByteDance. (Dreamstime/TNS)
December 02, 2022

A Chinese government propaganda outlet is quietly pushing content about U.S. politics over TikTok even as U.S. officials work with its Chinese ownership to address mounting national security concerns.

Some in the U.S. government have long warned that TikTok, the first foreign social media service to take hold in the country, could be used by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on American data or influence culture through content recommendations.

The U.S. is currently negotiating a contract with TikTok aimed at resolving national security concerns without requiring its Beijing-based owner, ByteDance, to sell the hugely popular app, as reported by the New York Times.

Now Forbes has revealed an account racking up millions of views with politically charged coverage of U.S. news, and it’s run by a U.S.-based branch of the CCP’s main TV broadcaster, China Central Television.

The account, NewsToks, mainly posted negative content about Republicans and positive content about Democrats leading to the 2022 midterm elections. A July video was captioned “Cruz, Abbott Don’t Care About Us” and another from October was titled “Rubio Has Done Absolutely Nothing,” Forbes reported.

One video that targeted Democrats asked viewers whether it was a “political manipulation tactic” for President Joe Biden to promise a bill codifying abortion rights. Another recent video describes why Native Americans don’t trust the U.S. government.

LinkedIn posts discovered by Forbes said the account had drawn 8.3 million views in a 60-day period. Other accounts that traced to the CCP that posted about sustainability and Chinese culture drew nearly 15 million views combined.

NewsToks’ connection to China is easily missed in its bio section, which reads: “Material distributed by MediaLinks TV, LLC for CCTV.” The abbreviation “CCTV” is not widely recognized in the U.S., and users have to navigate to the account’s bio section to see it. On U.S.-based social media services like Twitter and Facebook, state affiliation is indicated directly on each post by a government-run account.

In a statement to Forbes, TikTok said it was working on the issue. “We plan to introduce our state-controlled media policy and corresponding labels globally next year as part of our continued focus on media literacy. As we previously confirmed, the global rollout will include China state media,” spokesperson Jamie Favazza told the outlet.

Over the summer, TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas, Michael Beckerman, went on CNN and downplayed the influence of foreign content on the app. 

Host Brian Stelter asked him whether the Chinese government could “influence Americans’ commercial, cultural, or political behavior” through TikTok, and Beckerman responded, “Yeah, I just don’t see that.” But on the same day, NewsToks posted two videos about police officers killing an unarmed black man and four about mass shootings, including one called “A Uniquely American Plague,” Forbes reported.

On the day Forbes’ report was published, NewsToks hadn’t made a post in nine days. Its most recent posts were about the World Cup in Qatar, the legal status of capital punishment in the U.S., and the Colorado Springs nightclub shooting.