The greatest enemy our country faces today is not some terrorist group or powerful army. It’s actually in the pocket of almost every teenager in America: TikTok.
While media and business executives talk about developing a strategy for the social video app, there’s only one TikTok strategy that truly makes sense: deleting the app and banning the company from operating in the U.S.
With its reaction to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taiwan—launching missiles—the Chinese government has made clear they do not share many of our values. And in many ways, TikTok is more dangerous than any missile—and it’s aimed right at our homes and families.
As someone who has founded a major motion picture production company and co-founded and partially owns Triller, an innovative video platform that empowers creators around the world, I understand the power of media to shape and influence hearts and minds. At my companies, I’ve always tried to use that power for good: giving storytellers from all backgrounds the freedom to make amazing content. Unfortunately, TikTok uses creators to do the dirty work of a hostile government.
Making things more dangerous, the very fabric of America has never been at a greater risk of imploding than it is right now. We are at a pivotal moment in time and culture, with a paradigm shift in the way we and our children are living our lives. Most frighteningly, we are inviting and acting as the catalyst to what very well may become the greatest weapon to ever be created with the intent to destroy America from the inside out. It is what happens when our most powerful geopolitical enemy uses the social media technology our open and innovative economy created to use our free exchange of information against us. That all comes from one simple, devastatingly dangerous app: TikTok.
If someone offered you free Netflix in exchange to unfettered access to your entire life, would you take that deal? Would you give a media company the ability to access, copy, and share any and all data on your phone, and the ability to turn the microphone and camera on at will without you knowing, listening to every word, watching your every move, reading every email and text message?
When put that way, of course not!
However, teenagers and young people are doing this exact same thing today, but instead of handing that data over to a publicly traded American company like Netflix, they are turning over control of their devices to TikTok’s parent company ByteDance—which is partially owned by the Chinese government. Through TikTok, the Chinese Communist Party is effectively infiltrating our lives, telling us what to watch, and pushing selected information to minds that can be easily influenced. The Chinese Communist Party has been crystal clear about its view that America is a rival. They are attacking us from within.
TikTok likes to market itself as a fun, harmless app that allows kids to make silly videos tuned to popular music. It has taken off among preteens and teens, who spend hours a day letting ByteDance’s algorithm tell them what to watch. According to a study from Forrester, 63% of Americans between 12 and 17 used TikTok on a weekly basis in 2021, surpassing Instagram to become the most popular app among that age group.
That type of dependence from young people on a typical company from a Western country that operates independently from government influence would probably not be ideal. This is much worse. While American investment firms have chased the money and invested in it, at the end of the day, TikTok is a product owned by ByteDance—a company with deep ties to the Chinese Communist Party and ultimately controlled by the government of China.
To put it simply, people with TikTok downloaded on their phones are knowingly allowing a sworn enemy to America, Americans, and our way of life to have 24/7 access to their most private moments, files, pictures, emails, and basically everything else in their lives. The enemy is not even at the gates: They are in our pockets and on our nightstands.
This is not speculation or hyperbole. It is fact. BuzzFeed obtained over 80 audio recordings of internal TikTok meetings, confirming that the Chinese Communist Party had unfettered access to all of TikTok’s data. And TikTok has been proven to censor content that puts China and its geopolitical allies in a bad light, such as China’s persecution of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang region. Ultimately, it is an app that knows everything important about your family member—and always acts in the interest of the Chinese government.
By sharing viral TikTok videos and treating it like any other social app, we are letting the Chinese government infiltrate our homes. Once they are inside your digital world, it becomes almost impossible kick them out. There are tentacles you can’t even see that are reading your private messages and tracking your location.
The research shows TikTok can scan an entire hard drive, access contact lists, and see all apps installed on a device. It also routinely communicates between your phone and its servers in China. That means that your most sensitive personal information, passwords, and movements—and potentially, cameras inside your home—are accessible to a government that is more than willing to confront the United States.
TikTok is even logging every keystroke, according to TechCrunch, and not giving users an option to open in-app links in an external browser. That means when people are using links discovered through TikTok to enter credit card numbers or other personal information, servers in mainland China are taking note.
TikTok advises its PR team to downplay the China associations, and it seems to be working. Far too many prominent journalists, business leaders, and politicians appear to use TikTok on their personal devices, and there are certainly many more who are indirectly exposed due to family members who use the app. This behavior potentially puts the country at risk and could share important secrets with a geopolitical enemy.
To be fair, TikTok’s parent ByteDance is not the only company that has found itself compromised by the Chinese government—but it is the most dangerous of them because of its impact on American teens and access to the most personal data. China has acquired small “golden shares” in private media companies, using government-backed funds to buy influence—including a board seat and/or veto rights—in strategically important companies, as Reuters has reported. Through an arrangement like this, the Chinese Communist Party now controls the ByteDance board.
While China may be a major trading partner and at times economic collaborator, its government views the United States as an ideological enemy, and has not been shy about flexing its muscle through media. We know the Chinese government has enforced strict censorship on Hollywood movies, forcing major studios to cave and remove potentially controversial content such as references to Tibet or homosexuality in exchange for access to its lucrative movie market. China wants to set the bounds of what topics of conversation are acceptable. With its ownership of TikTok, it has a powerful tool to do that. This is literally the Chinese government—in your pocket.
Revealingly, China understands the danger of TikTok when unleashed on its own people. The international version is banned in its own country, with Chinese locals forced to use a separate app, Douyin. China also knows how poisonous the app is for young people, as Douyin limits youths to 40 minutes per day and does not allow overnight use. The Chinese government is much happier to see TikTok used 24/7 by Western children, shaping malleable hearts and minds. This way, there are also more opportunities to play the long game: gathering intelligence on children to use against them later.
TikTok may be the greatest Trojan horse in history. Instead of a handful of soldiers, it has tapped into hundreds of millions of brains. This will end with the enemy at the gates—one we are welcoming with open arms. We need to take a stance before it’s too late. It’s time to delete this app for good—and for the good of the country.
Report after report has been published imploring Washington to take a stance and do something about the fact that the Chinese government is in our homes. The greatest geopolitical threat to our nation has access to our entire lives.
One of the commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently sent Apple and Google a takedown notice instructing them to remove TikTok from the App Store and Play Store. That instruction was ignored.
As a result, we either have to believe the FCC commissioner has some side motive and breaking the law or, more likely, that he is in a position to see what TikTok really is. Given that he is one of the most informed people in our government about digital communication apps and has access to and information on TikTok that others don’t, for him to demand such a measure means he has good reason to call for this ban.
Furthermore, the armed forces has banned TikTok from government devices, and no member of the U.S. government is allowed to have TikTok on their phones. In fact, when you were still a candidate, President Biden, you banned the use of TikTok by anyone on your campaign even before you were president, starting when you were running.
There are a number of very good open-source studies showing how TikTok circumvents the normal protections the App and Play Stores offer consumers. They are doing it in plain sight. They just believe we care more about upsetting our preteen or teenage children by taking away their TikTok than we do about our own personal or national security.
Are they right? Are we willing to hand our future over to the Chinese government? I sure hope not.
I ask you, Mr. President, will you protect us? While children may not be thrilled with you making the right decision, to protect us and our families, you have protected yours by banning its use among your family and those close to you. Will you do the same for us, for our families? Will you put our safety before your popularity?
Ryan Kavanaugh is the 26th highest grossing movie producer of all time and the co-founder of Triller, one of three fastest growing social media apps. Ryan also founded and built the second largest sports agency in the United States and sold one of the largest television companies in the world with over 40 series on the air.