To TikTok, or Not to TikTok? For Conservatives, the Answer Is Clear

To TikTok or not to TikTok? Many conservatives, and those marketing to conservatives, have struggled with that decision. Despite the obvious benefits of reaching new audiences and growing a brand (and potentially making some good cash while doing so) the answer should be no for both individuals and brands. 


I’ve never been tempted to install TikTok on any of my devices; you also won’t find RedState or any of the Townhall Media sites on the Chinese Communist Party-beholden app. That’s an intentional decision. We don’t want to promote the use of an app that makes user data available to a hostile foreign government. And yes, while some who seemingly understand the CCP threat contend otherwise (in a very legalistic/hair-splitting way), it’s pretty obvious that TikTok is essentially a CCP spy app. So why are some major players in industries with huge conservative audiences – country music and NASCAR – all over the app?

Over the last few months there’s been a strange reversal of position on TikTok and the threat it poses to individuals and to national security, and a lot of competing information out there about the app’s ownership, what types of data and information go to China, and the the role of the CCP. After slicing through all of the noise, it’s clear we shouldn’t be using the app or encouraging others to do so.

Ownership and CCP Influence

TikTok’s not literally owned by the CCP, but its ownership structure and ultimate control isn’t exactly the way Sen. Rand Paul laid out in this short Twitter thread either.

TikTok LLC, based in Culver City, CA, owns the TikTok app. TikTok LLC is owned by TikTok Ltd, a Cayman Islands corporation based in Beijing. And TikTok Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of ByteDance Ltd, which is also based in Beijing and incorporated in the Cayman Islands. 


The breakdown of ByteDance Ltd’s owners and their percentages is as Sen. Paul laid out (although he attributed that to TikTok, not ByteDance), but since that information comes from ByteDance and cannot be independently verified, we can’t be entirely confident in that information. However, when it comes to control of what happens at the company it’s much more complicated than listing ownership percentages and drawing conclusions. The “company founders” Sen. Paul didn’t list are Chinese nationals who wouldn’t have a choice but to do what party officials told them to. And, the CCP owns a “golden share” of the company. What’s that? The Wall Street Journal explains:

The government stakes are sometimes very small, like the 1% holding that a fund of Beijing’s cyberspace watchdog recently took in the digital-media unit of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. But they tend to give the government board seats, voting power and sway over business decisions. Colloquially, they are known as golden shares.

Beijing has turned to golden shares to gain influence at companies that challenge the party’s ability to control public opinion, such as operators of news and content sites.

In the case of ByteDance, the CCP now owns 1 percent of Beijing Douyin Information Service, the domestic Chinese unit of the company; the party installed an official from the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s internet watchdog and censor, Wu Shugang, on the board. The company is also required by law to establish an in-house Communist Party committee composed of employees who are party members. CNN reports:


Zhang Fuping, the company’s vice president and editor-in-chief, serves as the secretary of the party committee. The committee often holds sessions to study the party and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. One session in 2018 was joined by Zhang Yiming and his management team, according to the Beijing government.

Who Has Access to User Data?

There’s been a lot of discussion about where user data is housed and where TikTok’s algorithm is housed – the U.S. or China or cloud servers or whatnot – but it really doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that any data Beijing wants, it can demand from ByteDance. If the company doesn’t comply, Beijing can and probably would shut it down or apply other painful consequences.

In March 11 testimony before a Senate committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray said TikTok’s  “parent company is for all intents and purposes beholden to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., asked if because ByteDance owns TikTok’s algorithm, regardless of where TikTok’s user data is stored, the Chinese government could ask ByteDance for the U.S. user data used to make the algorithm work, to which Wray said, “That’s my understanding.”

Remember that golden share and ByteDance board member Wu Shugang referenced above? Here’s one way that influences CCP access to U.S. user information:

Chinese national security laws require that all Chinese companies, including ByteDance, acquiesce to Beijing’s demands for intelligence, in effect blurring the lines between China’s so-called private sector and state surveillance. The Chinese government doesn’t just influence ByteDance from the intelligence shadows either; it has a seat on ByteDance’s board, which provides the Chinese government with direct influence over corporate decisions and, consequently, access to U.S. user information.


It’s Not Hypothetical

In 2022 BuzzFeed News published an expose “revealing that China-based ByteDance employees had repeatedly accessed U.S. user data, based on more than 80 hours of audio recordings of internal TikTok meetings.” According to Emily Baker-White, the investigative journalist, the recordings contain “nine statements by eight different employees describe situations where US employees had to turn to their colleagues in China to determine how US user data was flowing. US staff did not have permission or knowledge of how to access the data on their own.” 

Read that last sentence again. Obviously, that is a big problem and contrary to what TikTok executives have testified to on Capitol Hill.

After that story published, China-based ByteDance employees improperly accessed Baker-White’s TikTok user data to obtain her IP address and tracked her and other U.S. journalists covering the company in an attempt to find out who their sources were. When called out on it ByteDance/TikTok executives lied about their monitoring capabilities; they were forced to admit the surveillance occurred when Baker-White published a leaked internal email about it.

ByteDance chief executive Rubo Liang, the direct manager of Song Ye, said he was “deeply disappointed” in an internal email published by Forbes, where Baker-White now works. “The public trust that we have spent huge efforts building is going to be significantly undermined by the misconduct of a few individuals … I believe this situation will serve as a lesson to us al

ByteDance and TikTok had initially issued categorical denials of the allegations when they were first reported. The company claimed it “could not monitor US users in the way the article suggested”, and added that TikTok had never been used to “target” any “members of the US government, activists, public figures or journalists”. Those claims are now acknowledged to be false.


A US Department of Justice investigation into this incident was announced in March 2023, but no findings have been released.

Obviously, this app is a Trojan horse. 

So, I don’t understand why big names who have big conservative followings are on the app – giving all of their data to a hostile foreign government. 

For example, here’s a list of the top-followed country artists on TikTok:

NASCAR’s a pretty big deal over at TikTok as well. While the follower numbers are much smaller than those for country music artists, NASCAR itself has 2.2 million followers, Hendrick Motorsports has 120,000, and Joe Gibbs Racing has 869,000. As far as individual drivers, Denny Hamlin has nearly 100,000 followers, Kyle Larson has 65,000, Chase Elliott has 73,000, and Bubba Wallace has 21,500. To his credit, while NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has an account (with 36,500 followers), he hasn’t posted anything on it. (He likely only opened the account to prevent the username from falling into the hands of impostors.)

Even though I haven’t downloaded the app onto any of my devices, I have viewed TikTok videos on other platforms. I understand the draw, and I understand the utility. I don’t think it should be banned, because I believe that the U.S. government does the same thing with apps like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, but they mainly target our own citizens, and Congress needs to address that before thinking about a ban on TikTok. However, TikTok is simply something conservatives shouldn’t use and shouldn’t support using unless and until there is zero connection with China.




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