Ask a young person about TikTok and they’ll probably tell you it’s like Vine, only weirder. The meme-powered short-video site has turned into a most serious business, however. Last year, TikTok’s owner, the Chinese firm ByteDance, obtained financing at a jaw-dropping $78 billion valuation. That helped TikTok pass Uber for the world’s most valuable startup in 2018, even before Uber’s collapse really kicked off.
And TikTok’s winning streak has continued. The company brought in $7.2 billion in revenues last year and sees that figure exploding to nearly $17 billion for full-year 2019. TikTok’s silly videos have become a major part of the internet. But some politicians aren’t amused.
A group of senators including leading Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Tom Cotton have called for a formal inquiry into the video site. They wrote a letter demanding an investigation. It cited reports of TikTok censoring videos of controversial events in places such as Hong Kong that would put the Chinese Communist Party in a bad light. Additionally, they argue that foreign actors might try to use TikTok to manipulate upcoming American elections, and conclude:
“Given these concerns, we ask that the intelligence community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the U.S. and brief Congress on these findings.”
These aren’t the first Senators to grow worried about TikTok. Earlier this month, Republican Marco Rubio asked the Treasury Department to investigate corporate parent’s ByteDance for their acquisition of a U.S. social-media operation. He did so, he said, because, he claims that China is using social media to:
“advance their foreign policy and globally suppress freedom of speech, expression, and other freedoms that we as Americans so deeply cherish.”
This political inquiry comes hot on the heels of an investigative report from the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ found numerous incidents of Islamic State propaganda on TikTok, often accompanied with cutesy filters or hearts. For example:
TikTok has taken action to remove the Islamic State videos from their website. And they reminded folks that they have a strict policy against using their platform to promote violence or terrorism. Additionally, like Facebook has already done, TikTok has brought in more human moderators to crack down on inappropriate content. Still, as a Washington Post reporter put it, bad actors will be attracted to any outlet with mass distribution:
It remains to be seen what will come of Congress’ potential inquiry into the Chinese social networking giant. One thing is for certain, however: Investors should be glad TikTok didn’t go public at last year’s eye-watering $78 billion valuation. Otherwise, it could easily have ended up on the list of the year’s IPO disasters.