The FBI is investigating TikTok and TikTok is fighting back with influencers

The FBI is investigating TikTok and TikTok is fighting back with influencers
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One week ago we learned that a former TikTok employee with the company’s Trust and Safety division had been meeting with lawmakers and warning them that TikTok’s efforts to insulate US users from Chinese oversight were insufficient.  As I noted in the same story, TikTok’s reputation took a major hit when it was revealed that employees at Byte Dance had been attempting to track journalists, apparently to find out who was leaking information about the company to them. Thursday, Forbes published a follow up saying that the FBI and DOJ were investigating the company over that surveillance.

The FBI and the Department of Justice are investigating the events that led TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to use the app to surveil American journalists, including this reporter, according to sources familiar with the departments’ actions.

According to a source in position to know, the DOJ Criminal Division, Fraud Section, working alongside the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, has subpoenaed information from ByteDance regarding efforts by its employees to access U.S. journalists’ location information or other private user data using the TikTok app. According to two sources, the FBI has been conducting interviews related to the surveillance. ByteDance’s use of the app to surveil U.S. citizens was first reported by Forbes in October, and confirmed by an internal company investigation in December…

The DOJ and the FBI are both part of the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which this week demanded that ByteDance divest from TikTok or face a nationwide ban of the app. For the past several years, CFIUS has attempted to negotiate a national security contract with TikTok meant to mitigate concerns that it could be used by the Chinese government to access valuable private information about U.S. citizens or manipulate U.S. civic discourse.

The individuals involved in that surveillance attempt have been fired by ByteDance and the company says its investigation of the incident is ongoing. Meanwhile, the White House announced Wednesday that TikTok would need to be sold or it would face a ban in the US.

The Biden administration is demanding that Chinese-owned TikTok be sold, or the popular video app could face a ban in the U.S., according to a TikTok spokesperson.

Whether federal officials have given TikTok a deadline to find a buyer remains unclear. Regardless, it is a major escalation by White House officials who have grown increasingly concerned about the safety of Americans’ data on the app used by more than 100 million Americans.

It is the first time the Biden administration has explicitly threatened to ban TikTok. President Trump attempted to put TikTok out of business, but the actions were halted by federal courts. The new demand from U.S. officials will almost certainly be met with a legal challenge from TikTok.

TikTok has been doing the best it can to fight off this outcome. It opened a Transparency Center in Los Angeles and invited a bunch of west coast tech reporters to come visit. Politico reports the company is now planning to deploy an army of influencers.

The influential social media app TikTok is flooding the nation’s capital with influencers next week as part of an 11th hour lobbying blitz to stave off the forced sale of the company…

Dozens of TikTok creators will descend on Washington for three days next week, according to a person familiar with the plans, who revealed details on condition of anonymity. The creators will hold a press conference on Wednesday on Capitol Hill, the person added…

“Lawmakers in Washington debating TikTok should hear firsthand from people whose lives would be directly affected by their decisions,” said a TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown. “We look forward to welcoming our creators to our nation’s capital, helping them make their voices heard, and continuing to drive meaningful impact in their lives and for their communities.”

I have no doubt these influencers have a lot of sway with a certain swath of young, very online people. But as lobbyists I’m not sure they have much of a shot. Other than maybe AOC are there many lawmakers using TikTok? Maybe there are and I don’t know it because I’m not on TikTok. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how this influence operation goes.

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