Facebook’s CEO reportedly stoked the government’s fears about TikTok

Photo (c) Anatoliy Sizov - Getty Images

The Wall Street Journal reports that Mark Zuckerberg began warning officials last fall

The Trump administration has waged a vigorous campaign against the Chinese social media platform TikTok, issuing an executive order for the company to sell itself to a U.S. company or stop operating in the U.S.

While the administration has taken a hard line against China on a variety of fronts, The Wall Street Journal reports that the campaign against TikTok was stoked by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

At a time when Facebook was under increasing antitrust and privacy scrutiny in Washington, the newspaper reports that Zuckerberg was whispering in the ears of lawmakers and policymakers that the Chinese social media company was a bigger threat.

The report is said to be based on interviews with a number of “people familiar with the matter.” The campaign reportedly began last October when Zuckerberg delivered a speech to students at Georgetown University about the importance of freedom of expression.

Later that month, Zuckerberg dined at the White House with President Trump and reportedly made his case that Chinese internet companies threaten businesses -- especially technology companies -- in the U.S.

No memory of the discussion

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told The Journal that Zuckerberg doesn’t remember talking about TikTok during the White House dinner. But he acknowledged a view at Facebook that sees Chinese tech companies as a growing and potential threat to American interests.

“As Chinese companies and influence have been growing so has the risk of a global internet based on their values, as opposed to ours,” Stone told The Journal.

The Journal also cited sources who said Zuckerberg met with a number of senators in Washington, warning of the threat posed by TikTok, a video app favored by young people and rivaling Facebook-owned Instagram. 

Congressional action

Shortly after the late October meetings, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote a letter to U.S. intelligence officials asking for an inquiry into the Chinese company.

In March of this year, two Republican Senators -- Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rick Scott of Florida --  introduced legislation banning employees at the State Department and Department of Homeland Security from accessing the app on official government devices.

“TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members on its board, and it is required by law to share user data with Beijing,” Hawley said at the time. “As many of our federal agencies have already recognized, TikTok is a major security risk to the United States, and it has no place on government devices.”

Earlier this month, Trump signed an executive order banning TikTok, along with Chinese social media company WeChat, from operating in the United States within 45 days if they were not sold by the Chinese companies that own them.

In signing the order, Trump expressed concern over how the social media platforms handle user data and whether it is shared with other entities.

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