“Good old TikTok: Chinese spy engine and purveyor of virulent antisemitic lies.” Sen. Josh Hawley

San Francisco High School students enflamed by false report from the NYT (which later offered “nuance”) broadcast worldwide on TikTok #freepalestine that Israel bombed that hospital in Gaza.

by James C. Sherlock

Taylor Lorenz, the estimable young Tech and Online Culture columnist for The Washington Post, has been the author of some of the most important reports on the Hamas-Israel war.

Today, she published with Drew Harwell, a Post reporter covering artificial intelligence and the algorithms changing our lives, “Israel-Gaza war sparks debate over TikTok’s role in setting public opinion.

A pro-Palestinian hashtag, #freepalestine, had … 770 million views over the last 30 days in the United States, TikTok data show.

To longtime TikTok critics like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), that assertion offered further proof that the app, owned by the China-based tech firm ByteDance, is a secretive propaganda engine built to manipulate American teens for Chinese geopolitical goals — in this case, Rubio said, to “downplay … Hamas terrorism.”

The same Post article, attempting balance, reports both the Sen. Hawley quote in the title of this piece and that:

TikTok creators and social media experts say the reality (of reporting on the war) is more nuanced (than critics have asserted).

“Nuanced.” What would we do without “TikTok creators and social media experts”?

Half of TikTok’s U.S. audience is younger than 25. On videos in the United States over the last 30 days, about 59% of viewers for #standwithpalestine and #freepalestine videos were between the ages of 18 to 24, compared to 42% of #standwithisrael.

Our national security and federal communications apparatus have had reasons to have been concerned about TikTok well before this war.  

The FBI Director testified to Congress in March of this year that “the Bureau has national security concerns with TikTok.”

A Federal Communications Commissioner reports that TikTok is “owned by Beijing-based ByteDance—an organization that is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party and required by Chinese law to comply with the regime’s surveillance demands.”

Virginia has direct obligations here.

The TikTok threat. In a letter to the Department of Justice on Dec. 2, 2022, Commissioner Carr provided a great deal of additional disturbing information.  A small sample:

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that the Bureau has national security concerns with TikTok, including “the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm . . . for influence operations . . . or to control software on millions of devices which gives the opportunity to potentially . . . compromise personal devices.”

TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance—an organization that is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party and required by Chinese law to comply with the regime’s surveillance demands.

Through leaked audio recordings, a BuzzFeed News report revealed that ByteDance officials in Beijing have repeatedly accessed the sensitive data that TikTok has collected from Americans after those U.S. users downloaded the app through Apple’s and Google’s app stores.

a significant percentage of the millions of connected devices recently purchased with federal E-Rate and Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) discounts may not be Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)-compliant.

Another Chinese-owned app, WeChat, a unit of Tencent and also available from popular app stores, presents the same threat.

Virginia has at least four obligations here:

  1. ensure that neither TikTok nor WeChat apps are installed and that those sites are not accessed by browser on any state or local government computers;
  2. ensure, in compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), that those same safeguards are applied to computers acquired through the federal E-Rate and Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) programs;
  3. Under CIPA, the safety policy adopted by school districts must also address access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet; the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms and other forms of direct electronic communications; … unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors; and measures restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them. Ensure that those safety policies ban access to TikTok and WeChat;
  4. Require school divisions to notify parents of the warning about TikTok by the FBI Director.

A BR reader, a man of the left, commented a while ago that his daughters and their friends got their news from TikTok. He was proud of that. He wrote that his daughter’s generation would drive out all of the bad things older generations espouse.

He cannot be reassured by the Reuters report in March that TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew told the House of Representatives, “I don’t think that spying is the right way to describe it.” Nuanced.

I recommend that our commenter reconsider his position on TikTok.

But Virginia must act.

Or we can wait until China invades Taiwan, which the President has promised to defend, to see what our young people learn about that on TikTok.

As a close friend of mine with direct knowledge of the issues facing Virginia’s Boards of Visitors and College presidents wrote to me yesterday:

When a 25 year-old with a $800 camera has more daily viewers than Fox News, the chances of nuanced contemplation preceding speech by his 19 year old viewers are slim.

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32 responses to ““Good old TikTok: Chinese spy engine and purveyor of virulent antisemitic lies.” Sen. Josh Hawley”

  1. Our enemies are using the openness of our society as a weapon against us, and targeting our youth.

    We need to wake up.

  2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “Virginia has at least four obligations here:”

    What is the source for these obligations?

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      As written.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        I see the references to CIPA for two of them. Are you saying that you are the source for the other two? I don’t disagree that these are good practices/policies. I just want to know if they were actual legal obligations.

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          The first one is an existing responsibility of VITA for information security. https://www.vita.virginia.gov/

          The last one is the responsibility of the BOE, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Internet Safety Advisory Council https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title22.1/chapter3/section22.1-24.1/

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Does anyone think that software that works exactly like Tik Tok cannot be written or already has not been?

    Think of TikTok as a single representative of a type of software that can be or already has been written.

    Then what is the answer to that “threat”?

    Getting rid of Tik Tok is a lot like a game of whack-a-mole.

    What kind of law or regulation would be written to counter
    Tik-Tok and software like it beyond just banning Tik-Tok in name

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Difference? TikTok and WeChat and their data are controlled by the CCP.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        you don’t know about the others, either.

        it will take a more intelligent approach to deal with it than just whacking on the ones you think you know about.

        We’re now in a world that many of us cannot understand or know how to deal with so we’re doing silly stuff IMO.

        The first thing to recognize is that Tik-Tok is not unique and probably not the only app that China is involved with.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    “A BR reader, a man of the left, commented a while ago that his daughters and their friends got their news from TikTok. He was proud of that.”

    Wow! He has no idea the power of this form of media. TT’s influence has expanded exponentially in just the last few years. MTV was my generation’s great influence. TT makes MTV look prehistoric and primitive. I don’t see any immediate remedies. Even if you carefully control what your kid’s see and consume.

    1. how_it_works Avatar

      This guy has some interesting commentary about TikTok Walmart pranksters:

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        That host needs a haircut, shave, and a real job.

        1. how_it_works Avatar

          You know it’s bad when even a guy like that is talking bad about tik tok!

        2. LarrytheG Avatar

          folks blather about DEI and such. We now have a separate class of society… easy to see who they are – and zip to do with DEI…

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      I notice that Florida schools are banning cell phones – all day – not just in class.

      Got a view?

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        My 15 year old cannot have a cell phone or any form of social media until her 18th birthday. She bugs me all the time about it. What if I need to call you? I tell her to use her friend’s phone. Call me. They all have one. You don’t need a quarter either. No charge. Or use the school phone at student services. And for God’s sake you better be where you said you were gonna be.

        1. Lefty665 Avatar

          When the cork comes out of that bottle when she turns 18 it could be explosive.

          You might consider easing into that transition so it is not so abrupt and huge over several years while you still have some control.

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            Not likely. Very disciplined. Very even keeled. Her brain has not been scrambled by modern mass culture.

        2. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          When ours got her driver’s license, she got a phone. At home, it sat on the counter with her car keys.

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            Looking back, what does she say about that now?

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            She hates it when she sees kids with phones. That could be latent jealousy. But then, she hates technology in general. I’m certain that when she comes into ours she’ll move off the grid, hermit style. It’s a concern.

          3. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            I bought her a computer when she was 12/13. It was not in her room. It was in the family room. Full display. She used it for school, IM with friends, and every Nancy Drew game ever made.
            She still plays the games and dressed up as Nancy Drew for Halloween this year.

          4. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            All my kids got phones in high school. They are a very convenient means of communication and I trusted my kids to act responsibly. They did.

          5. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            In absolute distance the difference between 14 an 16 is the same as between 16 and 18, but relatively?? 14 is a whole lot closer to 12 and 16 is damned near 18 when it comes to handling life… for girls. Boys have to get a lot closer to 40 before that happens. Gotta get a mortgage.

      2. how_it_works Avatar

        Back in my day they banned pagers AND cell phones.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          some parents are raising heck.. they say their kids should be able to use their phones in between

          What role do cell phones play in the lower SOL scores these days?

          1. how_it_works Avatar

            Are those the parents who drive around with a cell phone glued to their ear?

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            used to be before cell phones.. there were folks who absolutely could not bear to let a phone
            ring.. they HAD to answer it ! Now.. folks have cell phones that “ding” and yep, it don’t matter
            if they are taking a crap or passing another car at 70mph or coming around a sharp curve , they
            HAVE to see what the “ding” is about even though it’s usually some dumb FB post or similar.

            We’ve become a nation of folks who walk/talk like clueless herds of animals… that respond to stimuli !

          3. how_it_works Avatar

            At one point in my life I had to suppress the urge to chuck my phone out the window of my car when it rang.

            I don’t have FB on my phone.

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            on the cell , it dings not only for FB but email, texts… other… Folks say… ” your phone is dinging” and I say , yep… and they don’t understand…. others.. they’re so engrossed with their phones.. they are staring
            at it even when they are in a restaurant with friends or other places doing social things. Went to
            a pot-luck picnic the other day and later around the campfire.. about half of them had their phones
            out staring at them… some doing selfies with the campfire… and I love the ones doing selfies with
            the buffalo at Yellowstone right before they get trampled.. 😉

        2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          Back in my day they banned chewing tobacco… oh wait… no they didn’t… 😂

          1. how_it_works Avatar

            Mouth cancer is a blast.

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Gov. Youngkin issued an executive order last winter banning Tik Tok on state computers. The GA enacted legislation this past session banning Tik Tok and other programs from the company that owns Tik Tok from any state-maintained equipment. http://www.collegiatetimes.com/news/new-virginia-law-bans-tiktok-wechat-on-state-owned-devices-and-networks/article_226e7584-14f8-11ee-ab53-b7e3f872d3af.html

    Of course, none of that will affect teens having it on their personal devices. Their parents could have an influence on that.

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