TikTok says it will answer questions from a federal investigation into foreign interference through social media, as a Coalition MP says the wildly popular app’s recent advertising campaign has “misread the mood” of Australians.
“Put simply, many of us want to know whether TikTok is a legitimate social media company or an arm of soft power for the Chinese Communist Party,” Tim Wilson, Liberal MP for the seat of Goldstein, told The New Daily.
The first two hearings of the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media will be held in August and September, with video app TikTok the first to be invited to appear.
The Senate will “inquire into the risk posed to Australia’s democracy by foreign interference through social media”, the committee said.
It has a specific focus on “purposes that undermine Australia’s democracy and values, including the spread of misinformation”, and how foreign-owned social networks comply with local law.
Facebook, Google, Twitter and WeChat have also been asked to front the committee to answer questions from senators.
But on August 21, TikTok – owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance – will be the first to appear.
A TikTok Australia spokeswoman confirmed to The New Daily that the company’s representatives would front the committee.
“TikTok is committed to transparent dialogue with our community, including policymakers and we will work with the Committee as we engage with this process,” they said.
“TikTok welcomes ongoing discussions with government audiences as we work to remain a safe, fun and creative platform for people to express themselves.”
A Twitter spokesperson said the company had received an invitation. The New Daily understands Facebook will also appear before the hearing.
TikTok, which has some 1.6 million Australians among more than 800 million global users, has faced questions over alleged data harvesting and links to the Chinese government.
The app censored videos discussing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, as well as content relating to Tibetan independence and pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong.
Several Coalition MPs have criticised TikTok, and called for it to be banned in Australia.
TikTok Australia’s general manager Lee Hunter told The New Daily last month that the app “does not share information of our users in Australia with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government, and would not do so if asked”.
He said the app was “building next-generation security programs”, adding data was stored on servers in Singapore.
But Liberal MP Mr Wilson said he had concerns about the app.
“Put simply, many of us want to know whether TikTok is a legitimate social media company or an arm of soft power for the Chinese Communist Party – and that shouldn’t be hard to answer under Parliamentary scrutiny,” he said.
“And if it is legitimate why do they censor content that seems to be closely aligned to matters the CCP wants silenced?”
As reported earlier this month, Mr Lee Hunter wrote letters to every single federal politician to address “a number of false claims made about TikTok over recent weeks”.
The correspondence was part of a multi-pronged campaign launched by the app that week, coinciding with a public advertising campaign asking “don’t make TikTok a political football”.
Mr Wilson was also unhappy about that.
About a week ago I sent a really basic email to @tiktokaustralia asking for information about their ownership structure. No reply. Good to know they did have time to put up electronic outdoor billboards in #Goldstein. pic.twitter.com/XlkMwzwLjm
— Tim Wilson MP (@TimWilsonMP) July 27, 2020
“TikTok‘s community advertising has really misread the mood – just because the app is popular won’t stop us asking difficult questions,” he said.
The foreign interference committee is not due to report until March 2022, and is expected to hold “a number of further hearings before then.”