No TikTok Leaders Have Ties To The Chinese Communist Party, COO Says In Heated Senate Hearing

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TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas faced tough questions from U.S. senators in a hearing this afternoon about the social media giant’s ties to the Chinese government. Senator Josh Hawley, citing reporting from Forbes, expressed frustration that Pappas would not say whether any Chinese employees working on TikTok are members of the Chinese Communist Party.

Hawley asked: “Are there members of the Chinese Communist Party employed by TikTok or ByteDance, or no?”

Pappas answered that no person who “makes a strategic decision at this platform” is a CCP member. But with respect to the rest of the app’s staff, she said the company does not vet its employees based on their political affiliations. She noted that no other tech platform present at the hearing asks its employees what political parties they belong to.

Hawley continued: “Would it surprise you to learn that Forbes Magazine recently reported that at least 300 current TikTok or ByteDance employees were members of Chinese state media?” Pappas reiterated that the company does not “look at the political affiliations of individuals.”

Visibly frustrated, Hawley said, “Your company has a lot to hide. You’re a walking security nightmare, and for every American who uses this app, I’m concerned.”

The hearing, convened by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, sought to assess social media’s impact on national security. Along with TikTok’s Pappas, executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter also testified about their companies’ policies on COVID-19 misinformation and child sexual abuse material. (Disclosure: In a previous life, I held policy positions at Facebook and Spotify.)

With TikTok, though, the senators were focused on the app’s ties to China. TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have come under fire in recent months following reports that ByteDance employees in China regularly accessed sensitive U.S. user data from TikTok, and that another ByteDance app, the now-defunct TopBuzz, promoted pro-China narratives to U.S. users. (TikTok confirmed the first report; ByteDance denied the second.) The app has since become the subject of a bipartisan investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee and a recently introduced bill in Congress.

By Emily Baker-White

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