FBI Director Chris Wray complained ahead of a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on “global threats” on Wednesday about TikTok, asserting that the Chinese social media platform has the power to “drive narratives” and “divide Americans against each other.”
In a series of questions from Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the committee, Wray said the American people need to understand “something that is very sacred in our country — the difference, the private sector and the public sector, that’s a line that is non-existent in the KKK’s modus operandi.”
“Do you think it’s valuable to see how TikTok works in China versus the US? For example, in the US, kids are encouraged to drown. We’ve had kids die. In China, they’re encouraged to focus on math and science and country building,” he asked. Rubio. “Is this an example of how two different versions of TikTok — one feeds, you know, poison into our society and the other instills positive values — an example of how TikTok could potentially or actually be used to harm our country?”
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“I think these are among many tell-tale indicators that we need to look at and assess the national security concerns it poses,” Wray responded. Rubio continued, “they can harvest our data, manipulate information, poison minds and feed garbage into the minds of millions of people.”
“If TikTok is bad for America, and we’ve talked about all these downsides and the potential harm it causes, if the fact that it’s popular with people under 35 is why we’re not taking strong action against it ?” Rubio argued. “This is a significant national security threat to the country that we haven’t faced before … I imagine it’s probably one of the most valuable surveillance tools on the planet.”
In another line of questioning from Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Wray explained that while TikTok is owned by ByteDance, an ostensibly private company, there is no discrimination under the authority of the Chinese Communist Party, as the government can still use the platform for data operations.
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“If you asked Americans, would you want to hand over your data—all your data, control of your device, control of your information—to the CCP, most Americans would say, ‘I don’t mind that.’ as my kids would say,” Ray testified. “It’s control of the recommendation algorithm, which allows them to exercise influence. It’s control of the software, which then allows them to access millions of devices,” he continued, explaining the dangers of the app to Americans. “So you put all those three things together and again, you’re back to square one, which is a tool that’s ultimately in the control of the Chinese government. And to me, that screams of national security concerns.”
“If you look at the Chinese government gobbling up information and data and then using artificial intelligence and other tools, ultimately over-computing things that to gather all that data to conduct targeting for espionage, targeting for IP theft, targeting for everything the things that I and others on this panel were shouting about the Chinese government,” added Ray, giving context to the CCP’s reach.
“Data is the currency of the world – those with the best information have the power – and that’s what, that allows them. You just have to look at the Equifax hack, where they basically stole the PII of half the population of the United States, and that it is a Chinese government enterprise.”
On the dangers to America’s youth, the senator told Wray, “My kids are about the same age as your kids, and what I would say is people need to find a different platform.”
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“Americans don’t need to spend three weeks a year on a platform that has been run out by Beijing for Beijing’s purposes. And we can do a better job than that,” Bennet said. “I don’t think the American people have had the kind of negotiation that you were just talking about. Even with our own big data platforms in the United States, our big social media platforms, we haven’t had negotiations about our privacy rights. We haven’t had negotiations about whether your children or my children should have the benefit of their finances, their finances, their identity, or whether Mark Zuckerberg should have the benefit of their identity.’