Why are Chinese officials defending TikTok on Twitter if TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government?




Chinese Officials Flock to Twitter to Defend TikTok

The company has tried to distance itself, but the information push shows just how deeply invested Beijing is in its fate.

By Sapna Maheshwari and Steven Lee Myers

April 6, 2023Updated 12:54 p.m. ET

When members of Congress grilled TikTok’s chief executive last month on Capitol Hill, the app’s supporters sprang to its defense online.

The lawmakers were “old, tech-illiterate,” one said. “Out of touch, paranoid and self-righteous,” said another. The hourslong hearing “destroyed the illusion that US leads in cyber era,” read another post.

These particular barbs did not come from TikTok’s users — 150 million and counting in the United States — but from representatives of China’s government.

In an information campaign primarily run on Twitter, Chinese officials and state media organizations widely mocked the United States in the days before and after the hearing, accusing lawmakers of hypocrisy and even xenophobia for targeting the popular app, according to a report released on Thursday by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a nonpartisan initiative from the German Marshall Fund.

TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese technology company ByteDance, has sought to assure American lawmakers that it is independent from China’s influence, and that it has extensive plans for securing Americans’ data and providing oversight of its content recommendations. Shou Chew, TikTok’s chief executive, explicitly said at the House hearing that ByteDance was “not owned or controlled by the Chinese government.”

China’s information push, however, showed just how deeply invested Beijing was in the company’s fate. Just hours before Mr. Chew’s testimony last month, China’s Commerce Ministry said it opposed a sale of TikTok in a direct rebuke of the Biden administration, which is pushing a sale.

Chinese officials “clearly feel a stake in it,” said Michael H. Posner, a former assistant secretary of state and now director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at the Stern School of Business at New York University.

The report from the Alliance for Securing Democracy found that Twitter accounts from Chinese diplomats and state media outlets posted nearly 200 tweets about TikTok in the week around the congressional hearing on March 23. That compared with fewer than 150 posts in all of January and February.

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