Majority in US believe China uses TikTok to influence Americans

More than half of Americans believe that the Chinese government uses TikTok to shape public opinion, according to the results of a new Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday.

The two-day poll, which closed on April 30th, comes on the heels of a new bill passed in Congress giving the Chinese-owned ByteDance nine months to divest from TikTok or face a ban in the US.

The legislation was signed into law by US President Joe Biden on April 24th, with TikTok’s CEO Shou Chew taking to the short form video platform hours later, calling the ‘divest-or-ban’ bill unconstitutional and vowing to appeal.

When asked if the Chinese government uses TikTok to "influence American public opinion," 58% of respondents agreed with the statement, while 13% disagreed, and the rest were unsure or did not answer the question.

Divided among party lines, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to view China using the app to sway public opinion.

Additionally, the poll found that 46% of Americans believe China is using the app to "spy on everyday Americans."

TikTok ban maintains support

The numbers also showed that 50% of Americans support a ban on TikTok, 32% oppose a ban and the rest are unsure – almost identical to the results of a similar Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted last August.

Top US intelligence officials, including CIA Director William Burns and FBI Director Christopher Wray, have testified to US lawmakers that TikTok poses a threat to national security due to Beijing's access to the large amounts of data collected by the app.

TikTok’s CEO Shou Chew testified before Congress last spring that the company does "not promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government."

What’s interesting is that the poll does not represent the views of Americans under age 18 – the vast majority of the 170 million TikTok users in the US.

When asked if they support the ban, about 60% of respondents aged 40 and older agreed, compared to 40% of respondents aged 18-39.

Citing First Amendment rights, TikTok users, including the more than five million US business owners who use the app for their financial livelihoods, are expected to join TikTok and take legal action to fight the ban.

Andrew Harding, VP of Security Strategy at Menlo Security, recently told Cybernews that “any ban by the US government will only create an artificial demand for TikTok.”

“Federal resources would be better applied to significant threats that harm children and that encourage cybercrime. TikTok is not inherently more harmful than other social media applications,” he said.

TikTok and political influence

There has also been much discussion on Capitol Hill as to whether China is using the app to influence the upcoming US elections set for November 5th.

Of those polled, 60% think it is inappropriate for US political candidates to use TikTok to promote their campaigns.

Ironically, on the Democratic party side, Biden’s election camp joined the app in February. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has criticized a potential ban, is not on the app at this time.

The new bill gives ByteDance a January 19th deadline to divest its US assets, only one day before the US swears in a new (or same) president on Inauguration day.

Biden has the option to extend the deadline by three months if he determines that ByteDance is making progress on divesting the app.

Exactly 1,022 US adults nationwide were surveyed for the poll which has a margin of error of about 3 percentage points.

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