Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg privately and publicly tried to stoke the fears surrounding Chinese social media giant TikTok last year as his own company faced stronger regulations, according to a new report.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Zuckerberg met with a number of politicians and regulators in Washington in 2019, raising the alarm about the apparent risk posed by Chinese tech companies, specifically TikTok, to American businesses.
During this visit, Zuckerberg also delivered a speech about freedom of expression, where he claimed that TikTok did not share Facebook’s commitment to freedom of expression, and that it represented a risk to American values and technological supremacy.
The Facebook founder and CEO also had a private dinner with US president Donald Trump in October, along with White House adviser Jared Kushner and tech investor Peter Thiel, who is on Facebook’s board. According to the report, at the dinner Zuckerberg said that the growing popularity of TikTok and its threat to US businesses should be a “bigger concern than reining in Facebook”.
Zuckerberg also reportedly met with a number of US senators, where he questioned why TikTok should be allowed to operate in the US when many US businesses can’t operate in China.
Two of the senators he met with were Tom Cotton and Chuck Schumer, the WSJ reported, and after the meeting, the pair wrote a letter to intelligence officials calling for an inquiry into TikTok.
The US government launched a national security review into TikTok soon after, and Trump recently signed an executive order banning anyone subject to US law from conducting transactions with TikTok’s China-based parent company, ByteDance, due to national security concerns.
ByteDance was initially given 45 days to find a buyer for TikTok in the US, but Trump recently extended this to 90 days.
The company is now preparing to launch a lawsuit challenging this upcoming ban.
In July, TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer called out “maligning attacks by our competitor – namely Facebook – disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the US”.
A Facebook spokesperson said the company stands by Zuckerberg’s position.
“Our view on China has been clear: we must compete,” the spokesperson told the WSJ. “As Chinese companies and influence have been growing so has the risk of a global internet based on their values, as opposed to ours.”
Trump’s executive order warned that TikTok and messaging platform WeChat capture “vast swathes of information” from its users which “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information”.
The order also said that TikTok could “potentially allow China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage”.
“TikTok may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, such as when TikTok videos spread debunked conspiracy theories about the origins of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus,” the executive order said.
A number of potential buyers have already flagged their interest in acquiring TikTok’s business in the US, along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These include tech giant Microsoft, social media platform rival Twitter, and software firm Oracle.
Facebook has become increasingly political in the last year, as it faces increased regulation in the US. The tech company reportedly spent more on lobbying than any other company in America in the first half of this year.
The company also recently established American Edge, an advocacy group that has been running ads lauding US tech companies for their contribution to the US economy, national security and cultural influence.