TikTok is once again under public scrutiny. The video-sharing platform is the subject of a Senate hearing into child safety online.
Republican Senators were quick to paint it as a nefarious Chinese plot to take down America. But apart from some blatantly racist questions, Senator Tom Cotton asked its Singaporean CEO Shou Zi Chew. A much bigger issue with TikTok is being swept under the rug that MintPress has previously investigated: that it is increasingly controlled by the US national security state.
Since 2020, TikTok has spent more than $1.5 billion moving its data and security operations to Texas, where it has partnered with CIA-cutout company Oracle. It has also hired dozens, if not hundreds, of US national security state officials to control and oversee its trust and safety, security, and content moderation departments, giving these former spooks and spies extensive control over how the platform functions and what the world sees in our feeds.
Take, for example, TikTok's head of European data public policy, Jade Nester. Before being recruited to TikTok, Nester was a high official in Washington, serving as the Director of Internet Policy for the State Department. Or what about Ryan Walsh, the company's escalations management lead for trust and safety? Until 2020, Walsh was the State Department's senior advisor for Digital Strategy. Part of his job, according to his own resume, included "advanc[ing] supportive narratives" for the U.S. and NATO online. Since MintPress reported on that, Walsh has wiped that piece of information from his Linkedin, and we just so happened to get banned from TikTok. Coincidence? Perhaps
If that's not spooky enough for you, let's take Greg Andersen. Before he became Feature Policy Manager at TikTok, he worked on "psychological operations" for NATO itself. Just like Walsh, Andersen removed that information from his resumé after we broke the story.
There are also a number of "ex-"CIA agents working for TikTok. Among them is Beau Patteson, who advises the company on threats from extremists. But until 2020, Patteson was a targeting analyst at the CIA, helping to choose who would be killed in CIA drone strikes around the world. Now he just decides who will be removed from the platform.
Far from its stereotype as an anti-American platform, TikTok works closely with the US government to ensure Washington's narratives are heard throughout the world. In 2022, for example, it announced it was deleting more than 320,000 accounts spreading pro-Russian messaging and was placing warning labels on Russian state-controlled media. Western state-run media did not get the same treatment.
And so, while senators and corporate media pundits alike complain about Chinese-controlled media, remember that, under the surface, something very different is happening. The US government is trying to take control over TikTok, further blurring the line between big tech and Big Brother.
Mnar Adley is an award-winning journalist and editor and is the founder and director of MintPress News. She is also president and director of the non-profit media organization Behind the Headlines. Adley also co-hosts the MintCast podcast and is a producer and host of the video series Behind The Headlines. Contact Mnar at email protected or follow her on Twitter at @mnarmuh.