'TikTok-Famous' Freshman Dem Violated Ethics Rules To Build Following on Chinese Spyware App, Watchdog Charges

Jeff Jackson has gained millions of followers by posting candid videos discussing the inner workings of Congress

Rep. Jeff Jackson (D., N.C.) / Getty Images
April 11, 2023

A freshman Democratic congressman who rose to prominence with his prolific TikTok posts disregarded House ethics rules as he built a massive following on the Chinese spyware app, a watchdog group charged in a complaint Monday.

Freshman congressman Jeff Jackson (D., N.C.) has quickly solidified himself as the most "TikTok-famous" House member during his first three months in office, cultivating 1.6 million followers by posting candid videos discussing the inner workings of Congress. But Jackson uses the same account to promote his political campaign, "clearly" putting him in violation of longstanding House ethics rules that prohibit members of Congress from using official resources for campaign purposes, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) said in its complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Jackson's alleged abuse of taxpayer resources to build his TikTok following comes as the platform faces a bipartisan reckoning in Congress and the threat of a forced sale over its ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The House of Representatives in December ordered lawmakers and their staffs to delete TikTok from any House-issued phones due to "security risks." Days later, President Joe Biden signed a Republican-backed bill banning the use of TikTok on any government-issued devices.

Undeterred by those warnings, Jackson has posted 15 videos to his TikTok account so far in 2023, each garnering an average of nearly 4.2 million views. Jackson used images from the House floor in at least six of those videos, FACT alleged in its complaint.

"The laws and ethics rules prohibiting members from using official resources for political purposes are clear and longstanding," FACT executive director Kendra Arnold told the Washington Free Beacon. "Not only do these ethics rules protect taxpayer funds, but they also protect the integrity of the government and maintain citizens' trust. Any time a member does not comply with these laws is troubling and should concern citizens."

Jackson isn't the only Democratic lawmaker alleged to have abused taxpayer resources on the path to TikTok stardom. FACT has filed similar complaints against Democratic representatives Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), and Wiley Nickel (N.C.).

Omar, Bowman, and their fellow "Squad" members have said that a unilateral TikTok ban would violate the First Amendment and that critics of the app are motivated by "xenophobia around China."

Jackson, however, has tried to avoid coming down on either side of the debate.

The North Carolina freshman told NBC News in March that FBI director Christopher Wray's warnings about data privacy and algorithmic concerns posed by TikTok "are going to be very hard to resolve as long as this remains a Chinese-owned company" and that the app should be banned if a change of ownership can't be negotiated.

But Jackson later said in a March 27 TikTok post that the security concerns apply to many other social media networks and that Congress bears the bulk of the blame for having "gotten us into this situation" by failing to pass a data privacy law. "TikTok became the symbol for a lot of general concern," Jackson said in the video, which received 3.8 million views.

Jackson in an April interview with Roll Call defended his continued use of TikTok, saying he only uses the platform from a secure device with no other applications installed. The North Carolina Democrat has said in several interviews that using TikTok is worth the risk, because he receives so many more views on the platform than he does on American-run social media networks.

"It just happens to be the case that you get way more views on TikTok than you do on Instagram or Facebook. Like 10 times as many," Jackson told NBC News. "I have been able to reach a lot of people, and at the same time I think the security concerns are real."

Jackson did not return a request for comment.