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Biden, the president, wants to stop TikTok. Biden the candidate embraces his stars.| GuyWhoKnowsThings


The White House is so concerned about TikTok's security risks that federal workers are not allowed to use the app on their government phones. Senior Biden administration officials have even helped craft legislation that could ban TikTok in the United States.

But those concerns were put aside on Thursday, the night of President Biden's State of the Union address, when dozens of social media influencers, many of them TikTok stars, were invited to the White House for a party. observation.

The crowd took selfies in the State Dining Room, drank champagne with the first lady and waved to Biden from the White House balcony as he emerged to deliver his speech to Congress.

“Don't jump, I need you!” Biden yelled at the young influencers filming from above, in a scene that was captured, naturally, in a TikTok video, which was broadcast to hundreds of thousands of people.

Thursday's White House party was an example of how Biden's political concerns collide head-on with his national security concerns. Despite growing fears that ByteDance, TikTok's Chinese parent company, could breach Americans' personal data or manipulate what they see, the president's campaign is banking on the app to energize a frustrated bloc of young voters ahead of the 2024 elections.

“From a national security perspective, the campaign to join TikTok was definitely not a good look: it was condoning the use of a platform that the administration and everyone in D.C. recognizes is a national problem,” said Lindsay Gorman, chief technology officer. and geopolitics of the German Marshall Fund and former technology advisor to the Biden administration.

TikTok is the second most popular platform among American teenagers behind YouTube, making it an attractive political tool. But concerns about the app's structure have been growing, and a House committee introduced a bill this week that would keep TikTok out of U.S. app stores unless the platform will separate from ByteDance.

When members of Congress talk about TikTok, they tend to focus on privacy concerns and whether data about users is stored in China or accessible to Chinese officials who could demand the company hand over the information.

But national security officials have a deeper concern: The algorithms that guide what users see are now designed almost entirely in China. The key is to prevent Chinese engineers, perhaps under the influence of the state, from using the code in a way that could censor or manipulate what American users see. TikTok has rejected such concerns, saying its opponents have presented no evidence to support those fears.

This is particularly important, officials say, as the election season approaches. If Chinese officials were trying to influence the election, the app could provide a subtle way to do so. But even legislation now moving through Congress might not affect that: It would not take effect until more than five months after a bill is signed. At most, that would be about a month before Election Day.

The White House has supported the restrictions.

Biden's National Security Council called the House bill “an important and welcome step” and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said it should move quickly to the president's desk for his signature. . While the path of the legislation in the Senate is unclear, Biden said Friday that he approved of the package.

“If they pass it, I will sign it,” Biden said.

ByteDance has spent Biden's term promoting a plan to eliminate security concerns about TikTok by storing its American users' data on Oracle servers in the United States. That plan was at the center of a draft 2022 deal between ByteDance and administration negotiators. But senior administration officials were concerned at the time that the proposed deal did not go far enough to address their concerns.

Despite all those concerns, the political benefits of TikTok became clear this week.

Harry Sisson, a 21-year-old political commentator on TikTok, reached more than 800,000 followers from his perch at the White House on Thursday night as he and others watched Biden's State of the Union address on Thursday.

“He directly called the Supreme Court in the face for overturning Roe v. Wade,” Sisson said in a post during the speech. “You have to see this, watch the clip.”

Later, in his fourth video During the speech, Sisson said of the president: “He came to talk to us about how content creation is very important in 2024 because, you know, the media landscape is changing.”

And he added: “No one watches cable news anymore.”

The Biden campaign declined to answer questions about the specific security protocols for posting TikToks or why the campaign adopted the platform before divesting from ByteDance. The White House has denied that Biden's national security team wants to ban the app.

“We don't consider this to mean banning these apps (it's not that), but rather ensuring that their property is not in the hands of those who could harm us,” Jean-Pierre said Wednesday. “This is about our national security, obviously, and that's what we're focused on here.”

The Biden campaign joined TikTok on Super Bowl night.

The administration had previously avoided opening its own TikTok accounts while taking advantage of the app's audience by inviting social media stars to briefings on Covid-19 vaccines and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But after rejecting the traditional presidential halftime interview on Super Bowl Sunday, the campaign came to tiktok with an inaugural post mocking a right-wing conspiracy theory claiming Biden had rigged the game.

Democrats say the adoption of social media platforms like TikTok is an attempt to reach voters where they are.

“We have to deal with the cards we've been dealt,” said Quentin James, co-founder of Collective PAC, an organization that seeks to elect black public officials. “If the tools are available, we have to use them even if there are international security issues at stake. “If the Biden campaign lost access to this, leaving the Trump campaign and others to use it, it would be an extreme disadvantage.”

Former President Donald J. Trump attacked the administration for potentially banning TikTok, saying it would only empower Meta, Facebook's parent company.

Trump's criticism of the effort was notable because while in office, he had worked on engineering a sale of TikTok's U.S. operations to Oracle. His CEO, Safra Catz, was a member of Trump's 2016 transition team and a major supporter of the campaign.

While the campaign is trying to use the platform to connect with younger voters, efforts by the White House and Congress to reform the company have angered TikTok users. After the bill was introduced in the House this week, TikTok took the unusually aggressive step of sending a pop-up message to American users on Thursday asking them to call their representatives and protest the bill. Some Capitol offices said they were inundated with calls, including from teenagers. Lawmakers complained that TikTok had misrepresented the bill by claiming it specified an immediate ban on the platform.

Meanwhile, a video the Biden campaign released about the North Carolina gubernatorial race quickly racked up comments calling for Biden to stop the TikTok ban.

One user expressed confusion in a comment that attracted likes from others on the app: “Aren't you about to ban TikTok? Why did your team create an account for you?

David McCabe and David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.




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