The Republican presidential primary field is divided on whether or not to ban the popular social media platform TikTok over its Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ties.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, have all indicated support of a nationwide ban. Former President Donald Trump tried unsuccessfully to ban TikTok during his tenure in the White House.
Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy initially supported banning TikTok, but recently appeared to walk back his hard-line stance.
“In retrospect, it was a little bit of an old-fashioned decision to say that there’s an entire mode of communicating with young people that I was going to turn off,” Ramaswamy said.
Republican South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has also differentiated himself from most of the Republican presidential field when it comes to banning TikTok. In an August Fox News interview, Scott said that while he had “no problem whatsoever” with a TikTok ban, he cited the legal roadblocks the Trump administration experienced in its attempt to ban the app to argue “we can’t ban” the company.
“[T]he question is how do we eliminate the Communist Chinese party from spying on our kids?” Scott told Fox News. “We have to separate or segregate the communist Chinese party from our kids’ data. We have to stop them from spying on our kids, buying our farmlands and trying to steal our intellectual property. I’ll be the president that gets that done.”
The Daily Caller News Foundation asked Scott’s campaign if the candidate would support a TikTok ban. The campaign declined to answer, and instead pointed to Scott’s Fox interview and legislation he introduced requiring apps to display the country where they were developed. Scott’s team also pointed to a May letter the candidate co-signed, asking President Biden to force the sale of TikTok over national security concerns.
Despite this, Scott has come under fire from GOP China hawks who say he’s used his senate committee position to water down tough-on-China bills. Likewise, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that, between March and May, ByteDance investor Jeffrey Yass donated $600,000 to a political committee aligned with Scott.
TikTok is linked to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through its parent company ByteDance. The Beijing-based company maintains an internal CCP committee, and the U.S. Department of Justice characterized ByteDance as a “mouthpiece” for the CCP.
The Biden administration plans to resume negotiations with TikTok despite its previous ultimatum that ByteDance must sell its stake in the company or face a potential ban, The Washington Post reported.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that one of the main investors in ByteDance, as well as the executive chairman and founder of Oracle, which stores TikTok’s American data, both contributed large sums to organizations supporting Scott.
Yass’ investment firm Susquehanna International Group bought a significant stake in ByteDance in 2012, while his personal stake of 7% is valued at around $21 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“I’ve supported libertarian and free market principles my entire adult life,” Yass told the WSJ. “TikTok is about free speech and innovation, the epitome of libertarian and free market ideals. The idea of banning TikTok is an anathema to everything I believe.”
DeSantis also received $2.5 million from Yass in February, according to data from his Florida PAC, which was named Friends of Ron DeSantis at the time. Yass has not contributed to Never Back Down, a federal PAC supporting DeSantis’ 2024 presidential bid.
China is using TikTok to spy on our children and invade their privacy. My Know Your App Act gives parents the tools they need to keep the CCP out of their homes and protect their kids.
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) July 20, 2023
A former ByteDance executive has alleged that CCP members within the company had a “superuser” credential or “god credential” that enabled them to view all of the data the company obtained, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company also had a “backdoor channel” to gain U.S. user data, the former executive asserted.
ByteDance employees also used TikTok data to spy on American journalists who were covering the company in 2022, Forbes reported. Additionally, TikTok stored American TikTok creators’ and businesses’ financial information such as Social Security numbers and tax IDs in China, according to records obtained by Forbes.
Oracle, Susquehanna, TikTok and ByteDance did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the divisions in the GOP presidential field over a TikTok ban.
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