Hawley pens letter calling for TikTok ban amid Israel-Hamas war

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has urged the Biden administration to implement a ban on the social media platform TikTok, sharing concerns about the Chinese-owned company’s handling of content about the Israel-Hamas war.

In a letter sent to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Tuesday, Hawley wrote that the ongoing conflict is a “crucial test case” for TikTok, adding that the platform has the “power to radically distort the world-picture that America’s young people encounter.”

“According to one poll, 51% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 believe that Hamas’s murder of civilians was justified — a statistic notably different from other age cohorts,” Hawley wrote in his letter, obtained and published by NBC News. “Analysts have attributed this disparity to the ubiquity of anti-Israel content on TikTok, where most young internet users get their information about the world.”

Hawley also said the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) hasn’t conducted a full review of the platform or demanded that ByteDance, the Chinese-owned entity that owns TikTok, sell off its stake in the platform.

Yellen is the chairperson of the CFIUS, an interagency committee that is authorized to review certain transactions involving foreign investment in the U.S. and certain real estate transactions by foreign persons.

The senator also noted how the Chinese government partnered with TikTok in 2019 to surveil Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, saying that the Chinese platform “censored American user content critical of this repression.”

“This simply heightens the stakes of the TikTok question: the longer this app is allowed to operate in the U.S., the longer its Chinese Communist Party overseers will apparently be able to propagandize Americans,” Hawley said in his letter. “That is unacceptable.”

“I urge you, and the other members of CFIUS, to swiftly conclude your review and ban all ByteDance-controlled apps currently available to U.S. users. The matter is as simple as that.”

This development comes as the platform has received new criticism from members of Congress and tech investors, who claim the platform is favoring pro-Palestinian content, NBC News reported.

U.S. officials have had a rocky relationship with TikTok over the past years. Multiple state governments and Congress in recent months have either introduced or implemented bans of TikTok on government devices due to national security and data privacy concerns.

Hawley recently introduced legislation earlier this year that would’ve implemented a nationwide ban on the social media platform.

“There is no basis to these claims,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. “The content on TikTok is generated by our community, and recommendations are based on content-neutral signals from users, and nothing more.”

The spokesperson pointed to a news release from last week that said unsound analysis of TikTok hashtag data around the conflict has caused some social media commentators to falsely insinuate that the platform is pushing pro-Palestine content over pro-Israel content to U.S. users.

Since the conflict began, the hashtag #standwithisrael has gained 1.5x more views than #standwithpalestine, 46.3M views compared to 29.4M views, according to the news release.

Updated Wednesday 1:45 p.m.

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