It was a bruising week for TikTok on Capitol Hill, but as momentum grew among Democrats and Republicans to ban the Chinese-owned video app over national security concerns, it gained an influential ally: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat of New York who is known for her own large social media following, waded into the debate just before midnight on Friday by posting a video on — what else? — TikTok. The video, her first on the platform, had garnered 1.5 million views by early Saturday morning.
In it, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez argues that President Biden and colleagues in both parties were “putting the cart before the horse” and rushing prematurely to cut off more than 150 million American users from the popular platform. She does not directly address their concerns that the Chinese authorities could exploit the app to monitor Americans or spread misinformation.
“If we want to make a decision as significant as banning TikTok, and we believe — or someone believes — that there is really important information that the public deserves to know about why such a decision would be justified, that information should be shared,” she says in the video.
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez joins an exceedingly small group of lawmakers — all of them progressive Democrats — who have broken with their party to support TikTok. So far, the congressional defense of the platform has been led by one of her closest allies, Representative Jamaal Bowman, who represents an adjoining district around New York City.
TikTok Under Scrutiny
The massively popular video app is facing pressure amid concerns over the handling of users’ data.
- Finding a Buyer: The Biden administration is pushing ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, to sell the app or face a possible ban. But there are many complications to finding a suitor.
- Federal Inquiry: The Justice Department is said to be investigating the surveillance of American TikTok users, including several journalists who cover the tech industry, by ByteDance.
- A New Defense: Keeping a low profile in Washington has not paid off for TikTok, which now faces regulatory pressure on many fronts. So the company is starting to speak out.
The Biden administration and members of both parties in Congress have warned that Beijing could force TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese internet giant ByteDance, to hand over data on Americans who use the platform. Dozens of House Republicans and Democrats castigated the company’s chief executive in a televised hearing this week, dismissing his claims that the company was independent.
Mr. Bowman, however, has said that the criticisms are a product of Washington groupthink. He has said that the Biden administration has yet to demonstrate that the Chinese authorities are manipulating the platform, warning of “xenophobic anti-China rhetoric.”
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately respond to an interview request about her position.
A spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, said that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez created a TikTok account more than a year ago but had not posted on it until late Friday. She said that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez did not meet with prominent TikTok influencers or other representatives whom TikTok dispatched to Capitol Hill this week as part of a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign.
In the video, which was also posted to Instagram, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez appears to share some of Mr. Bowman’s concerns about a potentially drastic move absent any evidence of security risks. She says that members of Congress have not been briefed on any national security threat.
“Why would we be proposing a ban regarding such a significant issue without being clued in on this at all?” she asks in the video. “It just doesn’t feel right to me.”
The congresswoman also argues that rather than singling out one platform, Congress should create tougher, European-style policies to regulate how social media companies collect and manage data from their users.
While Mr. Bowman has said he believes that many of his colleagues’ views are being warped by anti-China “hysteria,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez did not comment on the broader U.S.-China conflict or how the issues around TikTok fit into foreign policy.