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Lawmakers raise eyebrows at Biden campaign's TikTok debut

Feb 15, 2024
Illustration of the US Capitol with TikTok's logo.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Members of Congress who have been pushing for restrictions on TikTok in the U.S. were alarmed to see that the Biden campaign joined the platform this week in an attempt to connect with younger voters.

What they're saying: "In the best-case scenario, TikTok is CCP spyware —that's why governments have banned it on official phones," Rep. Mike Gallagher, who has called TikTok "digital fentanyl" and co-sponsors the Anti-Social CCP Act in the House, told Ashley via a spokesperson.

  • "In the worst-case scenario, TikTok is perhaps the largest-scale malign influence operation ever conducted."

Sen. Mark Warner, co-sponsor of the RESTRICT Act, which could allow for a TikTok ban, said he was concerned about the Biden campaign's use of the app.

  • "The Chinese Communist Party can not only get access to the data, but more importantly, they can potentially drive the algorithms in terms of what you're seeing," he said at an event at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington this week, per a recording shared by Warner's office.

Sen. Josh Hawley wrote on X: "Biden campaign bragging about using a Chinese spy app even though Biden signed a law banning it on all federal devices."

Context: Federal employees are not allowed to have TikTok on government devices, thanks to a bill President Biden signed in 2022.

  • Meanwhile, a government review of TikTok's ownership structure with Beijing-based parent company ByteDance has been ongoing for years with no formal resolution.
  • Last year, Axios reported that the Biden administration told TikTok it would be banned if ByteDance didn't sell it.

What's next: In regards to the RESTRICT Act, Warner said "it's going to have to re-emerge."

  • "We were willing to make some amendments. [Senate Commerce chair Maria] Cantwell is working on a variation of it."
  • "I've talked to Republican members in the House and the Senate who particularly after October 7 have been concerned about TikTok portrayal of the war in Gaza... I'm still optimistic there can be another path."
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew last year, and he appeared again recently before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but nothing has come out of that legislatively.
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