Washington, D.C. –  Just weeks ago, TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified that the app functions independently of the Chinese Communist Party. But a new analysis of data from the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund’s Hamilton 2.0 dashboard shows that Chinese diplomats and state media have mounted a sizable influence campaign in defense of TikTok—calling into question the company’s independence.

In a report out today, Lindsay Gorman, senior fellow for emerging technologies, and Etienne Soula, a research analyst, find that China’s propagandists tweeted about TikTok nearly 200 times during the week of the Congressional hearing. Those same accounts tweeted about TikTok fewer than 150 times throughout the entirety of January and February.

“Despite professions of distance between TikTok and China, the Chinese government has a demonstrated interest in influencing global discourse about the app,” Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman says. “Differentiating between organic arguments and autocratic propaganda is already an uphill battle. If the Chinese government were to influence TikTok into artificially boosting Chinese state media narratives on the app, we’d have no good way of knowing.”

Chinese diplomats and state media attempts to shape US public opinion about TikTok fall into 5 narrative categories, the authors write. China’s messengers have:

  • Amplified the TikTok CEO’s statements to paint the app in a benign light;
  • Hyped the app’s popularity and elevated the consequences of a ban;
  • Criticized and mocked members of Congress;
  • Denigrated the US system and painted the US as hostile to business; and
  • Portrayed criticism of TikTok or China as xenophobic.

“It’s striking that so many parts of China’s propaganda apparatus—from high-level Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials to Chinese diplomats abroad, to state media outlets all around the world—have rallied around a social media company that claims to have nothing to do with the Chinese state,” Research Analyst Etienne Soula says. “The scale and tone of the reaction is reminiscent of how Chinese messaging has defended Huawei in recent years.”

Read the report here: https://securingdemocracy.gmfus.org/china-propaganda-tiktok-hearing/

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.