BY: SHAWN FLEETWOOD | AUGUST 16, 2022
The New York Times asked TikTok, a social media app with known connections to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), to censor American users sharing election integrity concerns on its platform.
In a recent article titled, “On TikTok, Election Misinformation Thrives Ahead of Midterms,” Times writer Tiffany Hsu details how “TikTok is shaping up to be a primary incubator of baseless and misleading information” ahead of the 2022 midterms, with the issue of voter fraud being a prominent topic shared across the platform. Buried within the article, however, Hsu tacitly reveals that as a result of the Times reaching out to the CCP-connected company, TikTok began censoring users from using a popular hashtag associated with fears about election interference.
“Baseless conspiracy theories about certain voter fraud in November are widely viewed on TikTok, which globally has more than a billion active users each month,” the article reads. “Users cannot search the #StopTheSteal hashtag, but #StopTheSteallll had accumulated nearly a million views until TikTok disabled the hashtag after being contacted by The New York Times.”
Hsu goes on to note the platform’s failure to address the spread of “misinformation” in foreign elections, citing those in France and Australia as examples.
“The app [also] struggled to tamp down on disinformation ahead of last week’s presidential election in Kenya,” Hsu wrote, referencing a report by Odanga Madung, a researcher for the Mozilla Foundation. “Mr. Madung cited a post on TikTok that included an altered image of one candidate holding a knife to his neck and wearing a blood-streaked shirt, with a caption that described him as a murderer. The post garnered more than half a million views before it was removed.”
As reported by Federalist Senior Contributor Helen Raleigh, TikTok “is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet company” and “collects an enormous amount of data on its users, including IP addresses, browsing history, and biometric information.” While ByteDance argues that American user data “is safe because it is stored on U.S. soil,” China’s national intelligence law mandates that “all Chinese tech companies must turn over any data they collect if the government demands it.”
“[A] recent BuzzFeed News report, based on leaked internal TikTok meetings, shows that ByteDance’s Chinese employees have repeatedly accessed nonpublic U.S. user data,” Raleigh said. “One employee of TikTok’s trust and safety department said in a September 2021 meeting that ‘Everything is seen in China.’”
The actions by the Times to push TikTok into censoring Americans isn’t the first time the news outlet has played footsy with the CCP. Late last year, the Times faced public backlash after purportedly downplaying the role Chinese leader Xi Jinping played in the genocide of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China.
“For unknown reasons, the New York Times appears to have intentionally withheld documents that directly linked top Chinese Communist Party officials, including General Secretary Xi Jinping, to the ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region” wrote Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio in a letter to New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger. “In those now-released ‘Top Secret’ transcripts — documents that the New York Times has allegedly had in its possession since at least 2019 — Xi explicitly authorized changing local counterterrorism laws, rounding up and sentencing Uyghurs, the use of forced sterilization, and the use of slave labor in Xinjiang.”
The paper has since denied such accusations, with Assistant Managing Editor for International Michael Slackman claiming Rubio was “simply wrong on the facts.” But a pattern seems to be emerging.
Shawn Fleetwood is an intern at The Federalist and a graduate of the University of Mary Washington. He also serves as a state content writer for Convention of States Action and his work has been featured in numerous outlets, including RealClearPolitics, RealClearHealth, and Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnFleetwood