Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican, wrote a letter Tuesday to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen calling for a ban on TikTok over claims the social media platform has prioritized anti-Israel content amid the nation’s ongoing war against Hamas terrorists.
Hawley warned of TikTok’s “power to radically distort the world-picture that America’s young people encounter” and that the war in the Middle East is a “crucial test case.”
“According to one poll, 51% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 believe that Hamas’s murder of civilians was justified—a statistic notably different from other age cohorts,” Hawley wrote. “Analysts have attributed this disparity to the ubiquity of anti-Israel content on TikTok, where most young internet users get their information about the world.”
The senator was referring to a recent Harvard CAPS Harris poll in which 51% of registered voters between the ages 18 to 24 said they believe Hamas’ attack against Israel on Oct. 7 can be “justified by the grievance of Palestinians.” In comparison, the poll found that this statement was supported by 48% of people ages 25 to 34, 39% of people 35 to 44, 23% of people 45 to 54 and 11% of people 55 to 64.
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Hawley alleges that young Americans’ stance on the war is consistent with the Chinese government’s foreign policy preferences. Chinese President Xi Jinping has not condemned Hamas but has called for a cease-fire and an eventual two-state solution.
“And we know from past experience that political manipulation is business as usual for TikTok,” he wrote. “To take just one example, in 2019, as ByteDance partnered with the Chinese government to surveil Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, TikTok censored American user content critical of this repression. It appears that ByteDance is once again up to its old tricks—as innocent Israelis suffer and die.”
“This simply heightens the stakes of the TikTok question: the longer this app is allowed to operate in the U.S., the longer its Chinese Communist Party overseers will apparently be able to propagandize Americans,” Hawley’s letter continues. “That is unacceptable.”
More than 10,000 people have been killed in Gaza and Israel since Hamas launched its largest attack against Israel in decades on Oct. 7, prompting a military response from Israeli forces. Thousands more have been wounded, and many others have been taken hostage by Hamas and raped, tortured and murdered.
Hawley also described TikTok and its Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance as “threats to American national security.” He accused the video-sharing app of harvesting “vast amounts of data from Americans’ personal devices” and sharing their data with China, which he called “our main geopolitical rival.”
“Whistleblower testimony has revealed that China-based employees have full access to U.S. user data,” he wrote. “And under Chinese law, ByteDance is required to make that data available to the Chinese Communist Party upon request.”
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has previously denied claims that the Chinese government has access to U.S. TikTok user data.
The GOP lawmaker also said the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which Yellen chairs, has not yet completed a full review of TikTok or demanded that ByteDance sell its stake in the platform.
“Recent developments underscore the need for prompt action,” he wrote.
CFIUS is an interagency committee of the U.S. government authorized to review transactions involving foreign investment in the U.S. and real estate transactions by foreign persons.
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“I urge you, and the other members of CFIUS, to swiftly conclude your review and ban all ByteDance-controlled apps currently available to U.S. users. The matter is as simple as that,” Hawley concluded.
A TikTok spokesperson told Forbes that Hawley’s claims of prioritizing anti-Israel content have “no basis” and that the app’s content is “generated by the community, and recommendations are based on content-neutral signals, users, and nothing more.”
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Hawley’s letter comes as members of Congress and the Biden administration sound the alarm about TikTok boosting pro-Palestinian content over pro-Israel content.
Members of Congress, including Hawley have introduced legislation this year to restrict TikTok. Hawley introduced legislation at the beginning of the year that would have implemented a nationwide TikTok ban.
Some state governments have banned the social media platform over privacy and security concerns.