A Chinese government propaganda outlet is quietly pushing content about U.S. politics over TikTok even as U.S. officials work with its Chinese ownership to address mounting national security concerns.
Some in the U.S. government have long warned that TikTok, the first foreign social media service to take hold in the country, could be used by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on American data or influence culture through content recommendations.
Now Forbes has revealed an account racking up millions of views with politically charged coverage of U.S. news, and it’s run by a U.S.-based branch of the CCP’s main TV broadcaster, China Central Television.
One video that targeted Democrats asked viewers whether it was a “political manipulation tactic” for President Joe Biden to promise a bill codifying abortion rights. Another recent video describes why Native Americans don’t trust the U.S. government.
LinkedIn posts discovered by Forbes said the account had drawn 8.3 million views in a 60-day period. Other accounts that traced to the CCP that posted about sustainability and Chinese culture drew nearly 15 million views combined.
NewsToks’ connection to China is easily missed in its bio section, which reads: “Material distributed by MediaLinks TV, LLC for CCTV.” The abbreviation “CCTV” is not widely recognized in the U.S., and users have to navigate to the account’s bio section to see it. On U.S.-based social media services like Twitter and Facebook, state affiliation is indicated directly on each post by a government-run account.
Over the summer, TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas, Michael Beckerman, went on CNN and downplayed the influence of foreign content on the app.
Host Brian Stelter asked him whether the Chinese government could “influence Americans’ commercial, cultural, or political behavior” through TikTok, and Beckerman responded, “Yeah, I just don’t see that.” But on the same day, NewsToks posted two videos about police officers killing an unarmed black man and four about mass shootings, including one called “A Uniquely American Plague,” Forbes reported.
On the day Forbes’ report was published, NewsToks hadn’t made a post in nine days. Its most recent posts were about the World Cup in Qatar, the legal status of capital punishment in the U.S., and the Colorado Springs nightclub shooting.