Free speech absolutist Elon Musk has the mainstream media terrified.
After Mr. Musk purchased Twitter, laid off half the social media network’s workforce, and reinstated formerly banned accounts (like those of former President Donald Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene), the barons of the press became unhinged at the notion that they would no longer be able to control the narrative. They framed their coverage as the dangerous spread of “misinformation” and warned that dissenting points of view aired in the digital square are a grave threat to democracy.
They want Twitter’s old censorship regime back — and they want it bad.
CBS News briefly vacated the social media app out of “an abundance of caution.” Think pieces in The Atlantic, the Daily Beast, NPR and The Guardian advised users to get off the app, recommended liberal alternatives, and suggested that Mr. Musk himself may be a threat to U.S. national security.
President Biden was even asked in a press conference earlier this month if the federal government should investigate Mr. Musk’s $44 billion acquisition of the social messaging site. Mr. Biden responded that Mr. Musk’s “cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries [are] worthy of being looked at,” adding there were “a lot of ways” for the federal government to investigate the Silicon Valley tycoon.
If only the press would whip themselves into a similar frenzy about social media’s most menacing actor — Chinese-owned TikTok.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia sounded a rare note of bipartisan agreement — TikTok, the short-form video app that is wildly popular with younger users, is indeed a real threat to our national security.
“TikTok, a Chinese company, is subject to Communist China’s laws and TikTok is one of the most massive surveillance programs ever, especially on America’s young people,” Mr. Cotton explained. “It’s not just the contents you upload to TikTok, but all the data on your phone and other apps, all your personal information, even facial imagery, even where your eyes are looking on your phone.
“That’s why I’ve encouraged every American, if they’re using TikTok, to delete it from their phone. And if they can, to get a new phone altogether,” Mr. Cotton explained.
Mr. Warner, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, strongly agreed.
“I mean, TikTok is an enormous threat,” he explained. “It’s a threat on two levels. One, it is a massive collector of information, oftentimes of our children. [TikTok operators] can visualize even down to your keystrokes.”
Mr. Warner continued: “The second problem is that TikTok, in a sense, is a broadcasting network. And … TikTok, at the end of the day, has to be reliant on the Communist Party. The China law states that.”
Through TikTok, he added, Beijing could “dial up the fact that we are going to decrease content that criticizes Chinese leadership but increase the content that your kids may be seeing, saying, ‘Hey, you know, Taiwan really is part of China.’ That is a distribution model that would make RT or Sputnik or some of the Russian propaganda models pale in comparison,” Mr. Warner said.
Twitter has plateaued at about 300 million monthly users, whereas TikTok has more than 1 billion, with over 135 million in the U.S. alone. TikTok is the fastest-growing app in American history, in the past two years achieving the metrics other social media companies required 10 to 15 years to achieve.
Twitter is largely dominated by media users, with 25% of its users creating 97% of all tweets, according to a Pew Research study. Only 1 in 5 U.S. adults are on Twitter, and they’re much more Democratic-leaning. The average user spends 35 minutes a day on the app.
TikTok, by contrast, focuses on our youth. It’s the No. 1 social media app used by those aged 16-25, with Generation Z making up 60% of its user base. Users spend a whopping average of 91 minutes a day on the site.
“TikTok users continue to give away personal information to an app with known links to the Chinese government and ‘aggressive’ data-harvesting tactics,” reported UnHerd, a British news website. “TikTok tracks and collects users’ locations, IP addresses, calendars, contact lists, browsing and search histories, the videos they watch and how long they watch them, sharing all this with more third parties than any other app.”
In June, BuzzFeed News reported leaked audio of more than 80 internal TikTok meetings that uncovered its China-based employees had repeatedly accessed U.S. user data. TikTok is one of the only Silicon Valley firms not cutting employees in the economic downturn, vowing to hire 1,000 ,pre this month.
Mr. Cotton has asked the Department of Homeland Security to release information about the hundreds of foreign employees working in TikTok’s U.S. offices, saying that many of the guest workers in the U.S. may have direct ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
In August 2020, Mr. Trump signed an executive order that moved to ban TikTok. Last year, Mr. Biden inexplicably revoked it.
Although CBS News briefly shuttered its Twitter account, it maintained its TikTok account. It’s rare to read think pieces about TikTok not printed in trade journals. Mr. Biden thinks Mr. Musk should be investigated, yet his administration’s examination of the inner workings of TikTok is at a standstill.
The bottom line: For some liberals — especially those within the news media — conservative voices, not those who run Communist China, represent the greatest security threat to America.
• Kelly Sadler is the commentary editor at The Washington Times.