By 2021, TikTok is expected to boast at least 52.5 million users. We know the short video app for spawning quite a few memes, viral dance moves, and the occasional cringe content, but federal security officials are eyeing TikTok for a different and rather troubling reason: political disinformation.
On Tuesday, per CNET, senior officials within the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) division spoke about focusing on TikTok and have reached out to the company directly. The emphasis on contacting the Chinese-owned company isn't too different than how security officials got in touch with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube after the 2016 presidential election controversy.
Super Tuesday riddled with super worries — Just a day before Super Tuesday, CISA alongside the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency released a joint statement on political disinformation. Although the statement doesn't specifically name TikTok as a potential agitator, it does point to "foreign actors" that could thwart voters from making an informed choice. Here's an excerpt that stood out:
Americans must also remain aware that foreign actors continue to try to influence public sentiment and shape voter perceptions. They spread false information and propaganda about political processes and candidates on social media in hopes to cause confusion and create doubt in our system. We remain alert and ready to respond to any efforts to disrupt the 2020 elections. We continue to make it clear to foreign actors that any effort to undermine our democratic processes will be met with sharp consequences.
What CISA says — "The relationships that we have with social media companies are related to how established they are in the United States," the senior official said, according to CNET. "We have a line of communication with TikTok, and it's just one of those areas we're going to continue strengthening out."
As for TikTok, which has yet to respond to the report, skepticism, (oft-valid) criticism, and accusations are nothing new. And to be fair, the company has released its own transparency report but if it doesn't want to get banned in the United States, it ought to speak up — and soon.