Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wants a foreign investor watchdog committee to look into TikTok's 2018 acquisition of the music app Musica.ly over concerns that the Chinese-owned social media platform has been censoring content in line with the views of the country's government.
"TikTok, which has millions of active users across the U.S., is now ranked among the world's most downloaded apps," a Wednesday letter from Rubio to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin explains. "There continues to be ample and growing evidence that TikTok's platform for Western markets, including those in the U.S., is censoring content that is not in line with the Chinese Government and Communist Party directives."
TikTok is a short-form video social media platform owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, which — valued at over $75 million — is the most valuable startup company in the world. TikTok bought the social music lip-sync app Musical.ly in 2017. Musical.ly was shut down by Bytedance after the two platforms merged the following year.
"Combining Musical.ly and TikTok is a natural fit given the shared mission of both experiences – to create a community where everyone can be a creator," musical.ly co-founder and TikTok executive Alex Zhu said at the time.
Now, Rubio wants the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) — an inter-agency committee that deals with national security concerns surrounding foreign investments in the U.S. to look at the TikTok merger, citing reports that the platform tells moderators to censor videos that mention topics like Tiananmen Square and Tibetan independence, thereby helping bolster the Chinese government's narrative and foreign policy aims. These came around the same time as concerns that the app may have censored videos of the Hong Kong protests.
"What is known, the government of China is using these apps to advance their foreign policy and globally suppress freedom of speech, expression, and other freedoms that we as Americans so deeply cherish," the Florida senator wrote, urging CFIUS to launch a "a full and thorough national security review" on the matter.
"The Chinese government's nefarious efforts to censor information inside free societies around the world cannot be accepted and pose serious long-term challenges to the U.S. and our allies," the letter concluded.