AOC Bucks Growing Bipartisan Support for TikTok Ban

TikTok gave $150k to group that counts socialist congresswoman as adviser

A left-wing protester takes a selfie with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) / Getty Images
March 27, 2023

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) on Saturday broke with growing bipartisan support for a ban of TikTok, downplaying concerns that the Chinese government could use the social media app to spy on Americans.

In her maiden post to TikTok, Ocasio-Cortez said that a proposal to ban TikTok "just doesn't feel right to me." The progressive Democrat questioned intelligence officials' concerns that the Chinese government could use TikTok to surveil Americans or peddle pro-Beijing propaganda. She also raised concerns about how TikTok competitors, such as Facebook, handle users' data.

@aocinthehouseSome thoughts on TikTok…♬ original sound - aocinthehouse

Ocasio-Cortez's post comes as TikTok has mounted an aggressive lobbying and public relations push to block a ban on the app. TikTok, which is owned by China's ByteDance, has hired the Democratic public relations firm SKDK to provide "communications support" in its fight against the ban. The company has spent millions of dollars more on lobbying lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

In December, TikTok gave $150,000 to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, for which Ocasio-Cortez serves as an adviser, according to lobbying disclosures. The donation was for "honorary expenses" for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which counts Ocasio-Cortez as a member.

TikTok also gave $150,000 to the Congressional Black Caucus, which counts Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D., N.Y.), another TikTok supporter, as a member. Last week, TikTok organized a rally with Bowman during which the congressman asserted that the proposed ban was "racist" and xenophobic. Bowman also said he has not seen any evidence that China has used TikTok for espionage.

But American intelligence officials have said the Chinese government could use TikTok to spy on Americans and push pro-Beijing propaganda on users. There is growing evidence that TikTok and ByteDance have already used the site for those purposes. The Justice Department is investigating reports that ByteDance executives in Beijing accessed TikTok data to track American journalists who have reported about the company. TikTok computer tracking code has also been found on the websites of more than two dozen state governments, according to another report.

Democrats have increasingly admitted that TikTok is a boon to the party's campaigns, as TikTok users tend to be younger and more liberal than the American public. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, a former Democratic governor of Rhode Island, said this month that "the politician in me thinks you're gonna literally lose every voter under 35, forever," if TikTok is banned.