Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., asked the Biden administration Tuesday to ban TikTok in part because of how the app has handled content about the Israel-Hamas war.
He called for the ban in a letter addressed to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who chairs the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency panel with the authority to block foreign involvement in corporations and markets on certain national security grounds. Treasury Department representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hawley wrote that the Israel-Hamas war is a “crucial test case” for TikTok’s influence as a media organization and source of news, and he expressed concern about what he called “the ubiquity of anti-Israel content” on TikTok.
“While data security issues are paramount, less often discussed is TikTok’s power to radically distort the world-picture that America’s young people encounter,” he wrote.
In recent weeks, TikTok has come under new scrutiny from members of Congress and tech investors who say the platform favors pro-Palestinian content.
Hawley’s letter cited a viral thread on the social media app X by venture capitalist Jeff Morris Jr., alleging that TikTok was the reason young Americans are more sympathetic to Palestinians than older Americans are.
Hawley wrote that CFIUS should ban not only TikTok, but also any app controlled by its parent company, ByteDance. That would also cover CapCut, a popular video-editing app. ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“This simply heightens the stakes of the TikTok question: the longer this app is allowed to operate in the U.S., the longer its Chinese Communist Party overseers will apparently be able to propagandize Americans. That is unacceptable,” Hawley wrote.
But the reality of the app’s influence on discussions around the war isn’t cut-and-dried. The perceived performance of pro-Palestinian content on the platform depends on how you parse TikTok’s data, according to an NBC News review of hashtags related to the conflict.
Hawley has sponsored legislation to ban TikTok based on its collection of personal data and, according to his office, he plans to try to fast track a vote on the legislation on the Senate floor in the coming days. Under Senate rules, holding such a vote would require unanimous consent from all senators. A similar request by Hawley failed in March.
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has previously said that the allegations of bias are baseless.
“Our Community Guidelines apply equally to all content on TikTok and we strongly reject any of the baseless claims to the contrary. We’re committed to consistently enforcing our policies to protect our community,” the company said in an emailed statement last week.