Three hundred current employees at TikTok and its parent company ByteDance previously worked for Chinese state media publications, according to public employee LinkedIn profiles reviewed by Forbes.
Twenty-three of these profiles appear to have been created by current ByteDance directors, who manage departments overseeing content partnerships, public affairs, corporate social responsibility and “media cooperation.”
Fifteen indicate that current ByteDance employees are also concurrently employed by Chinese state media entities, including Xinhua News Agency, China Radio International and China Central / China Global Television. (These organizations were among those designated by the State Department as “foreign government functionaries” in 2020.)
Fifty of the profiles represent employees that work for or on TikTok, including a content strategy manager who was formerly a Chief Correspondent for Xinhua News.
The LinkedIn profiles reviewed by Forbes reveal significant connections between TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, and the propaganda arm of the Chinese government, which has been investing heavily in using social media to amplify disinformation that serves the Chinese Communist Party. Chinese state media outlets have a large presence on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but so far, they have been relatively quiet on TikTok.
ByteDance and TikTok did not contest that the 300 LinkedIn profiles represent current employees or deny their connections to Chinese state media. None of the state media outlets named in this story responded to a request for comment, as per Forbes.
Jennifer Banks, a spokesperson for ByteDance, said that ByteDance makes “hiring decisions based purely on an individual’s professional capability to do the job. For our China-market businesses, that includes people who have previously worked in government or state media positions in China. Outside of China, employees also bring experience in government, public policy, and media organizations from dozens of markets.”
In response to the 15 profiles that show ByteDance employees concurrently employed by Chinese state media, she added that ByteDance “does not allow employees to hold second or part-time jobs, or any outside business activity, that would cause a conflict of interest.”
People spend more time on TikTok today than they do on any other app. In recent months, the app has been hailed as a powerful driver of American culture, and has rapidly emerged as a critical player in our electoral and civic discourse.
The LinkedIn profiles raise further concerns that China could use TikTok’s broad cultural influence in the US for its own ends, a fear that led a cohort of US politicians, including former president Donald Trump, to call for a ban on the app in 2019.
Meanwhile, citing that Tiktok is providing user data to the Chinese government, the British Parliament has shut down its TikTok account, media reports said.
The British Parliament has shut down its TikTok account after some Members of Parliament sanctioned by China raised concerns about data security, reported Politico. Just six days after opening the account, parliamentary authorities confirmed they had deactivated the social media profile.