Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D., N.Y.) on Tuesday said “xenophobia around China” was behind the Republican push to ban TikTok.
The “Squad” member, who is holding a rally on Wednesday with 20 TikTok personalities, says he has seen no evidence that China could use the app to carry out espionage. “And so the idea that, ‘Oh, TikTok is the boogeyman’—it’s just part of a political fearmongering that’s happening,” Bowman told NBC News. Hours before Bowman spoke to NBC, the Wall Street Journal reported that tracking code from TikTok has been discovered on more than two dozen state government websites.
Bowman’s defense of the Chinese spyware app comes as Democrats increasingly acknowledge that TikTok gives the party an advantage over Republicans because of its appeal to younger, liberal voters. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, who would have oversight of any TikTok ban, said this month that “the politician in me thinks you’re gonna literally lose every voter under 35, forever,” if the site is banned. Bradley Beychok, the head of the Democratic group, American Bridge 21st Century, called TikTok a “valuable weapon” for Democrats that the party “wouldn’t want taken off the shelf.”
A TikTok ban has garnered support in Washington after American intelligence officials have said that the Chinese government could use the app to snoop on users, and to peddle pro-Beijing propaganda. The site has reportedly accessed user data on at least two American journalists who reported about the site. The Justice Department is investigating whether TikTok spied on the reporters.
TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance, is spending millions of dollars on lobbying and public relations to stave off a ban of the app. The company recently hired the Democratic consulting firm SKDK to provide “communications support” in its public relations blitz. SKDK maintains a revolving door with the Biden White House and powerful Democrats like Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.).
Bowman defended TikTok as a platform for users “to share their ideas, their inspirations, their voices with the rest of the country and the rest of the world.”
“And why do we want to take that away?”
But Bowman has not applied the same rationale to other social media platforms. In March 2021, he said it was “time to shut down Facebook” following a report that the site allowed militia groups to use its platform. Democrats have been relatively critical of Facebook, which is more popular with older users. In December, he suggested that users should quit Facebook and Twitter, claiming they “too often sell hate, lies and data for profit.”
Bowman and other Democratic candidates have incorporated the app for their campaigns. Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) has used TikTok as part of his Senate campaign, though he has acknowledged concerns about China’s access to data from the platform. Schiff posted videos to the site complaining about his ouster from the House Intelligence Committee. He pledged to “save democracy” in another post.
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