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As the U.S. government intensifies its scrutiny of TikTok, the social media company linked to China is reportedly beefing up its lobbying team in response.
Newly hired staffers in the company’s public policy office include former aides to top Democrats in government as the popular app and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, continue to expand lobbying efforts amid threats of a looming ban by the Trump administration, CNBC reported.
Use of the video sharing app has skyrocketed as adolescents and young adults have increasingly turned to it in the last few months in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. But TikTok has also gotten the attention of lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle who have raised concerns about its connections to China.
In a preemptive move ahead of any potential actions by the U.S. government, the company went on a sort of hiring spree, bringing on board new employees with lots of experience in government and public policy., such as Michael Hacker, a former senior adviser to House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina.
Hacker noted that he was asked to join the company by Michael Beckerman, the former CEO of the lobbying group the Internet Association, who joined TikTok a few months ago.
“Michael Beckerman is a best-in-class government relations professional with more than 15 years experience,” he said, according to CNBC. “When he got the job, he asked me if I’d consider coming to help him.”
Hacker will be leading the team which also includes Michael Bloom, a former senior adviser to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Democratic Senate aide Kim Lipsky, who was staff director of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
U.S. national security experts have expressed concerns over whether the app’s Chinese parent company will end up sharing user data with Beijing, especially in light of China’s new national security law which includes stricter control of online content.
“TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members on its board, and it is required by law to share user data with Beijing,” Sen. Josh Hawley said in a statement back in March when he introduced legislation banning federal employees from using TikTok on government devices.
“As many of our federal agencies have already recognized, TikTok is a major security risk to the United States, and it has no place on government devices,” the Missouri Republican said at the time.
This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was “looking at” banning TikTok from the U.S.
“We are taking this very seriously. We are certainly looking at it,” he told Fox News on Wednesday. “We have worked on this very issue for a long time.”
When asked by Fox News if the social media app should continue to be downloaded, Pompeo said: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
ByteDance has reportedly been looking for ways to distance itself from China’s government, including potentially moving its headquarters and setting up new management for TikTok, according to the Wall Street Journal. A spokesman told Reuters on Monday that TikTok will exit the Hong Kong market in the coming days.
“In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” the spokesperson said.
The company has asserted that user data from the app is not stored in China and that it would not comply if asked by China’s government to censor any of its online content.
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