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After All the Security Warnings, Why Is President Biden Still on TikTok?

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After All the Security Warnings, Why Is President Biden Still on TikTok?

March 25, 2024

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The House-passed bill to force TikTok’s divestiture has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee, where momentum is growing to advance the legislation. Committee Chair Maria Cantwell is considering holding a public hearing on it when the Senate returns after Easter.

Last week, Cantwell and Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner hosted a classified briefing on TikTok and have called for intelligence about TikTok to be declassified. Sen. Warner has already endorsed the House-passed bill, noting that the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the legislation unanimously after a similar closed-door briefing on the app’s security threats. Senator Richard Blumenthal compared the app to “a gun aimed at Americans’ heads” after leaving the classified session. President Biden has said he will sign the bill if Congress passes it.

An open hearing and declassified intelligence about the threat posed by TikTok’s ties with the Chinese government would help inform the ongoing legislative debate and show Americans the app’s risks. Now, while the nation waits for the Senate to act, President Biden and other elected officials currently on TikTok have a responsibility to educate Americans about the platform’s vulnerabilities by deleting their accounts. Despite supporting the legislation, President Biden just joined TikTok this year on Super Bowl Sunday, as part of his presidential campaign. He also recently invited TikTok influencers to the White House to cover his State of the Union Address.

President Biden’s joining the app flies in the face of his own stated support for the bill, as wells the many public warnings from national security officials about the app in recent years.

In 2019, the Department of Defense urged DoD employees to delete TikTok, and several military branches followed by banning use of the platform on government-issued devices. In 2022, Congress passed a law prohibiting the use of TikTok on government devices.

Last year, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly told a House panel: “Anything that is in the control of a foreign adversary, to include our preeminent threat from China, where troves of data, to include data from kids, goes back to a foreign adversary for them to be able to use that data potentially for influence operations, for profiling, I think is a huge, huge risk.” She added that this was “one of the reasons why TikTok is off Federal Government devices.”

In 2023, the Center for Internet Security, which received $43 million in federal funding last year and shares cyber threat intelligence with state and local government partners, assessed that Tiktok “poses a risk to users and U.S. security more broadly due to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ability to leverage the app for influence operations and as a data harvesting clearinghouse.”

And just last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee that ByteDance is “for all intents and purposes, beholden to the [Chinese Communist Party].” When asked by Senator Marco Rubio about the prospect of Chinese authorities requiring ByteDance to manipulate its algorithm to support or undermine American political candidates, Wray responded that the company would be required to comply, adding these such “influence operations” would be “extremely difficult to detect, which is part of what makes the national security concerns represented by TikTok so significant.”

Given these repeated warnings, President Biden’s joining TikTok sends, as Senator Warner recently observed, “a pretty darn mixed message." And the president isn’t the only prominent elected official on the platform. As of December, 37 members of Congress had TikTok accounts, according to the New York Times.

The idea that national politicians should be setting an example for the American people may seem outdated in 2024. But it remains true. Why should American teenagers listen to their parents or the warning of the national security experts to delete TikTok if President Biden remains on the platform?

As the Senate debate unfolds, President Biden and members of Congress can lead by example by deleting their accounts until the platform is no longer a threat to the country and the Americans who use it.

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