In a Wednesday interview, White House official John Kirby defended the Biden administration’s watchful stance on Elon Musk’s Twitter and their comparative silence about Apple limiting its services for people protesting in China against their communist leaders.
Kirby, who is a spokesman for the White House National Security Council (NSC), joined Fox News host Martha MacCallum for an interview. During the conversation, MacCallum asked Kirby why the Biden administration has suggested scrutinizing Musk’s ownership of Twitter and why the administration wasn’t making similar comments after learning Apple was limiting Chinese protesters’ use of their AirDrop file-sharing service to coordinate protests of China’s strict COVID-19 lockdowns.
This week, CNBC reported Apple recently limited the AirDrop service on its phones in China. Protests movements have used Apple’s AirDrop services in the past to coordinate their actions, including in 2019 protests in Hong Kong against laws that give the mainland Chinese government more authority over the semi-autonomous territory. Apple’s new limits on the AirDrop service in China potentially hinder the ability of protesters now challenging China’s lockdowns and calling for the resignations from the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“This is an interesting situation that has developed with Apple and I want to start there and get your take on what Apple is doing, because they have restricted — which is what the Chinese government wants — some use of AirDrop ability . . . and this is the way protestors are communicating with each other,” MacCallum said. “What does the White House, what do you say to Apple about helping the Chinese government to keep their people under control?”
Kirby responded that the administration wants people to be able to protest and that they have upheld that position with regard to protests in Iran and China. With regard to the AirDrop services in China, he then said, “Apple’s a private company, Martha, they have to make decisions and they have to speak for those decisions.”
“But why not say something to Apple?” MacCallum asked. “Because we were just told the other day that the White House is keeping an eye on Elon Musk and Twitter. So, why would you say that from the podium . . . and not call Apple out for helping the Chinese government to suppress their own people’s ability to communicate?”
In November, just days after Musk finalized his deal to take over ownership of Twitter, Biden said Musk’s business relations in other countries and “whether or not he’s doing anything inappropriate” is “worth being looked at.” Earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration is “keeping an eye” on Twitter under Musk’s ownership.
Amid the warnings of added scrutiny by the Biden administration, Musk has said Twitter has been used by its past owners to interfere in elections. Musk has also vowed to expand free speech on Twitter.
During the interview, Kirby told MacCallum, “Apple, if this is a decision that they’re making, then they should have to speak to that, but we’re not — we can’t and we aren’t in the business of telling private companies how to execute their initiatives.”
“Yeah, but Twitter’s a private company, too. So, why is Twitter getting one treatment and Apple’s getting another is my question?” MacCallum asked.
“Well, those are completely two different circumstances,” Kirby replied.
“You’re talking about the potential for perhaps foreign investment and involvement in the management of Twitter. That’s a different issue than what we’re talking about here, which is a business decision by Apple with respect to how one of their applications is being utilized.”
“Well certainly [Apple] is getting influenced by a foreign government and that government is China,” the Fox News host interjected.
Kirby said it would be fair to ask Apple why it changed its AirDrop services in China. MacCallum then asked Kirby if the Biden administration had indeed raised those questions with Apple, Kirby said he was not aware of the administration actually pursuing answers on such questions.