China Has 'Supreme Access' to TikTok, Former Exec Alleges

App is a 'useful propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party,' lawsuit claims

Chinese president Xi Jinping and the TikTok logo
May 12, 2023

A former executive at TikTok parent company ByteDance says Chinese Communist Party officials have "supreme access" to the popular social media site and use it to spread pro-Beijing propaganda.

Yintao Yu, who led ByteDance's engineering operations in the United States until 2018, alleged in a lawsuit Friday that the company uses TikTok as a "useful propaganda tool for the Chinese Communist Party." He is suing ByteDance for wrongful termination after he was fired for blowing the whistle on ByteDance's "worldwide scheme" to steal technology from its competitors, according to the New York Times.

The lawsuit comes as the Biden administration weighs a ban on TikTok over concerns that the Chinese government can use the app to surveil Americans and to spread pro-Beijing messages. TikTok has hired an army of lobbyists and consulting firms to avoid that fate. TikTok lobbyists have visited the White House more than 40 times since last year. The company recently hired the Democratic consulting firm SKDK to provide "communications support." Three SKDK executives have visited the White House since December, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Many Democrats oppose a TikTok ban, with some openly citing the site's popularity with young, liberal voters. "The politician in me thinks you're gonna literally lose every voter under 35, forever," Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in March.

Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D., N.Y.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) also oppose the ban, claiming they have not seen any evidence that China has used TikTok for surveillance or propaganda purposes. At a rally organized by TikTok in March, Bowman accused Republicans who support the ban of "xenophobia" and racism.

But according to Yu, ByteDance maintains a special unit in Beijing comprised of Chinese Communist Party members who oversee content on TikTok. He alleges that the unit "guided how the company advanced core Communist values" and "maintained supreme access to all the company data," even data stored in the United States.

Yu claims he witnessed the propaganda initiative firsthand. He told the Times that ByteDance engineers promoted anti-Japanese content and demoted posts that expressed solidarity with pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.