TikTok employed a Chinese ex-diplomat to oversee the content allowed on its app during some of its highest growth stages, the Financial Times reported Sunday.
Cai Zheng, a Chinese Communist Party diplomat formerly based in Iran, led TikTok’s global content policy team until early this year. Based in Beijing, Cai was part of a TikTok leadership group that drafted guidelines for the types of content users could post to the app.
Cai’s time at the company also coincided with robust criticism against TikTok’s censorship policies. A memo obtained by reporters in March showed that TikTok actively guided moderators to ensure posts by creators considered ugly, disabled, or expressing opinions that run afoul of Communist Party doctrine would not reach wide audiences.
Moderators were tasked with banning users who posted content potentially "endangering national security" or "national honor and interests" or created content that promoted the "uglification or distortion of local or other countries' history," according to the document.
Topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, Uighur camps, Tibetan genocide, and other topics delegitimizing the CCP are regularly suppressed on the app.
ByteDance, the managing company for TikTok, denies any connection with Beijing elites involved in the CCP. The Trump administration, however, has demanded the sale of TikTok to a U.S. company as it becomes increasingly clear that TikTok engages in data theft, particularly from American teens. While judges have blocked the directive, the White House has also tried to ban updates to the app on American platforms.
"TikTok basically allows the Chinese Communist Party to spy on our children," Keith Krach, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy, and the environment, told the Washington Free Beacon.
Newly obtained CCP documents show an increased interest in controlling private enterprise, particularly in the technology sector. CCP planners hope to "improve the selection mechanism" for tech leaders, rendering them more loyal to party ideals and interests.
The sale of the Chinese social media app is still under review by policymakers. In August, reporters from Axios, the New York Times, and Vogue, among other outlets, reacted to the news of a potential sale by defending the app.