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White House posts video created using an app owned by TikTok's parent company

The White House’s CapCut-created video was posted the same day Congress grilled TikTok's CEO over national security concerns.
The south facade of the White House in Washington DC, United States on April 21, 2022.
The south façade of the White House in Washington DC, United States on April 21, 2022.Yasin Ozturk / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — As President Joe Biden threatens to potentially ban TikTok in the U.S. over national security concerns, he embraced another popular app owned by the same Chinese company.

Last week the White House’s official Instagram account posted a flashy video of Biden and former President Barack Obama. In it, a photo of the two of presidents, awash in sparkling confetti, does cartwheels on screen as catchy electronic music plays. 

The video, which got nearly 57,000 likes and more than 6,000 comments, was created using the app CapCut, which, like TikTok, is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. 

According to an NBC News review, the White House video is frame for frame the exact same as a popular CapCut template, although the company’s watermark isn’t visible and the White House’s version appears slightly zoomed in. It is possible to download the template without the watermark. The music — an audio file called "Happy With You" that originated from the TikTok Official Sound Studio — is the same music that accompanies the template.

The White House’s use of CapCut even as TikTok is banned from U.S. government devices underscores the tension between Biden’s professed national security concerns and his political and communications strategies, which is likely only to grow as he’s expected to run for re-election with a robust social media strategy to reach as many Americans as possible.  

The Biden administration recently suggested it could move to ban the app if its Chinese owners refuse to sell their stakes in the company. (A TikTok spokesperson said in a statement at the time that if "protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem.")

A spokesperson for the National Security Council, John Kirby, declined to say Wednesday whether Biden has the same concerns about CapCut, which creates templates for users to use on video-oriented social media platforms, as he does about TikTok, a video sharing app. 

“You’ll always want to take a look at whatever national security concerns might be prevalent there, particularly when it comes to data transfer, as well as privacy concerns and just secrecy concerns,” Kirby said at the White House news briefing. “I don’t want to go beyond what we’ve said in the past here,” he added, noting Biden’s concerns about TikTok. 

The disconnect between Biden’s national security and political concerns when it comes to TikTok has been on display for months. He has welcomed TikTok creators and influencers to the White House multiple times to try to boost support for a variety of issues — from defending Ukraine against Russian aggression and the Inflation Reduction Act to helping Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections.  

Biden also recently appeared in a celebrity video on TikTok.

The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment on whether CapCut has been downloaded on any government devices. But typically to create a video using a CapCut template, the app must be downloaded on a user’s device, and access to that device’s photos and videos must be granted.

CapCut’s privacy policy says the app collects information from users like their location, age, gender and usage information. It also says it “may collect information about you if you interact with the Platform without creating an account.”

CapCut has had 86 million downloads in the U.S. since its launch in April 2020, as well as an estimated 7 million daily users in the U.S., according to Apptopia, a digital data collection company. As of this month, CapCut also is the No. 1 downloaded photo and video app in the U.S., according to SensorTower, a company that tracks digital data. 

By contrast, TikTok now says it has over 150 million regular users in the U.S.

The template used by the official White House Instagram account has been used more than 1.1 million times, according to CapCut's public-facing metrics, which are accessible to its users.

The popularity of this particular template also highlights the ways CapCut and TikTok increasingly overlap. The audio is TikTok's, and "Happy With You" has been used to soundtrack at least 188,000 posts, according to internal metrics that show users what's popular on the app. The template the White House used is also a favorite on TikTok right now, propelled in part by some of the app’s creators with large followings. 

The White House's CapCut-created video was posted the same day TikTok’s CEO was on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue being grilled by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, largely over concerns the Chinese government could exploit Americans’ use of the app for spying.

“Just letting everyone know the Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land,” the White House Instagram post said.