5. Nine Republican senators led by Marsha Blackburn also sent a letter to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew and demanded answers to questions about the privacy of American users. TikTok responded to the letter a couple of days later and admitted that ByteDance employees in China could access US users’ sensitive information. But the company said that it manages access to that information via a security team that is based in the US. It didn’t divulge more details about this access.
6. In response to the investigation, TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan told BuzzFeed News: “We know we’re among the most scrutinized platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any doubt about the security of US user data. That’s why we hire experts in their fields, continually work to validate our security standards, and bring in reputable, independent third parties to test our defenses.”
7. ByteDance used a popular news app that it owned called TopBuzz, which is now defunct, to prominently feature content that was favorable to China, a second BuzzFeed News investigation published earlier this week showed. TopBuzz also censored stories about the Chinese government, former employees claimed.
8. Three former employees told BuzzFeed News that TopBuzz staff occasionally pinned pro-Chinese content to the top of the app. Employees were also required to provide evidence to ByteDance that they were placing this content in the app through screenshots. “Let’s be real, this was not something you could say no to,” a source said. “If they don’t do it, somebody’s going to jail.”
9. Employees also claimed that they were asked to remove coverage of the Hong Kong protests and some content that showed openly LGBTQ people. The company also removed any articles about Chinese President Xi Jinping and any content that compared him to Winnie the Pooh, something that the Chinese government has a history of censoring.
10. Employees said that TopBuzz illegally scraped and republished content from mainstream newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, without its permission, and also videos from YouTube. A New York Times spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the company had sent TopBuzz a cease-and-desist order for republishing content without permission. TopBuzz also published low-quality content to drive up engagement, including misinformation.
11. Six former employees told BuzzFeed News that the company also used the scraped data to train its algorithms to write news automatically without human journalists.
12. ByteDance spokesperson Billy Kenny issued the following statement to BuzzFeed News in an email: “The claim that TopBuzz — which was discontinued years ago — pinned pro-Chinese government content to the top of the app or worked to promote it is false and ridiculous. TopBuzz had over two dozen top tier US and UK media publishing partners, including BuzzFeed, which clearly did not find anything of concern when performing due diligence.” In response, a spokesperson for BuzzFeed Inc. said, “BuzzFeed, Inc. reaches its audience on all the major platforms — including those owned by ByteDance — while continuing to report on those platforms with rigorous journalism.”
13. The second investigation drew more angry reactions from lawmakers.