As Companies Flee Russia, China-Owned TikTok Takes Different Course

Russian president Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, Feb. 4, 2022. / Reuters
June 28, 2022

TikTok is advertising job openings in Moscow, just months after the Chinese-owned social media platform said it suspended its Russia operations amid a mass corporate exodus from the country.

TikTok’s corporate website lists more than a dozen job postings in Moscow, including revenue planning managers, industry analysts, and monetization strategists. While TikTok often stresses its independence from its Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, several of the Russian job ads request Mandarin Chinese speakers, with one stating that "fluency in Mandarin would be [a] distinct advantage" for candidates.

The TikTok job listings suggest the company has no plans to exit Moscow, even as hundreds of companies, including McDonalds, Starbucks, and Ikea, have pulled out of the Russian market since President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The hiring activity comes amid growing concerns from U.S. lawmakers about TikTok’s relationships with adversarial countries, and more than a year after the Biden administration promised to conduct a national security review of the platform. ByteDance has accessed private U.S. consumer data collected by the social media site, BuzzFeed reported in June. U.S. senators are also investigating the flood of Russian state-sponsored propaganda on the platform.

In March, TikTok banned Russian users from live-streaming and posting new content in response to the Kremlin’s "fake news" law, which prohibited people from spreading anti-government information. The platform also blocked Russians from viewing content from outside the country.

Some news outlets depicted TikTok’s announcement as part of the worldwide corporate withdrawal from Russia, with CNN reporting that it joined a "long list of companies boycotting the country over its war in Ukraine."

But the company’s decision was actually a benefit to the Russian government, according to the Washington Post, which reported in June that TikTok selectively enforced its policies and allowed Russian state-run outlets to continue to post propaganda while censoring outside information.

Republican senators slammed the policy in a letter to TikTok’s CEO last week.

"We are deeply concerned that … TikTok is enabling the spread of pro-war propaganda to the Russian public, which risks adding to an already devastating human toll for both Ukrainians and Russians," said the letter, which was led by Sens. James Lankford (R., Okla.) and Steve Daines (R., Mont.).

Another group of Senate Republicans on Friday pressed the Biden administration for an update on its promised national security review of TikTok, after reports of a Chinese data breach at the company. While TikTok says it stores private American user data in the United States for security, engineers at ByteDance have routinely accessed this data, according to company audio recordings published earlier this month by BuzzFeed.