The Wisconsin lawmaker expected to be the new House Republican point man on China voiced fresh concerns Sunday about TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media site that has become wildly popular with America’s youth but which many see as a major security danger.
Rep. Michael Gallagher, in line to head a new House select panel on China, said TikTok poses a danger because it has proven “highly addictive and destructive” for users, because of its potential to control or suppress content critical of China, and because of the links between Beijing-based ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, and the Communist regime in China.
Endorsing a phrase first used by Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, Mr. Gallagher told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the site is the equivalent of “digital fentanyl” — the highly addictive and often fatal synthetic opioid — and warned that the Chinese Communist Party and other authoritarian governments were looking to TikTok and other technologies to cement their hold on power.
Chinese officials “seem to be perfecting this model of techno-totalitarian control,” he warned. “… And, ultimately, it’s my belief that that’s a model that will not stay in China. That’s a model they are going to export around the world.”
Mr. Gallagher and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Illinois Democrat, have introduced a bill to promote the sale of TikTok to a U.S. owner, although previous efforts to separate the U.S. branch from ByteDance control have fallen through.
Mr. Gallagher also criticized U.S. social media firms that have agreed to operating restrictions inside China that TikTok has resisted in the U.S.
Mr. Gallagher said he still believed a “workable solution,” but added, “What we don’t want is some quasi-solution where there’s a data center in Singapore, but the [Chinese Communist Party] and ByteDance effectively retain control. So, the devil is in the details.”
TikTok denies that its site is being used to spread Chinese government misinformation, or that data and personal information about users in the U.S. are being shared with the parent company or the government in China.
Mr. Gallagher told “Meet the Press” the company’s assurances are not sufficient.
“We have to ask whether we want [China] to control what is on the cusp of becoming the most powerful media company in America,” he said. “That is very troubling.”