TikTok's seduction operation in Washington

A gigantic spot in the Washington train station, almost daily advertisements in political newsletters

TikTok's seduction operation in Washington

A gigantic spot in the Washington train station, almost daily advertisements in political newsletters... TikTok is pulling out all the stops to fight against its ban, examined by American elected officials.

This charm offensive is supported by an army of tiktokers who are wandering this week with their laptops in the corridors of the American Congress.

"Hey everyone! I'm right in front of Lindsey Graham's desk in the US Senate," says @sparksofjoyco, a tiktokist who specializes in making greeting cards, about the influential Republican elected official.

“I will be in contact with them to make them understand the impact that TikTok has on my life and on my business and all the concerns that you have shared in the comments”, she promises to her more than 90,000 subscribers.

An innocent campaign from a worried user? A few hours earlier, the influencer appeared arm in arm in Washington with the boss of TikTok, Shou Chew.

This Singaporean leader with a casual look has multiplied in recent days, interviews, exchanges with the media and on the platform, before a long-awaited hearing Thursday before American parliamentarians. For the occasion, he abandoned his jeans uniform and hooded sweater, in favor of a suit.

A single objective: to convince the American political class of the efforts of its platform to protect user data.

Because many American elected officials, Republicans and Democrats, consider the platform of short and viral videos, which belongs to the Chinese group ByteDance, as a threat to national security.

They fear, along with a growing number of Western governments, that Beijing may not be able to access user data around the world through this application.

TikTok has been denying it for years, but tensions between the two countries and, recently, the downing of a supposed Chinese spy balloon, have raised calls to stand firm against China.

After banning the mobile app of congressmen and White House officials, several elected officials, such as Democratic Senator Mark Warner, introduced bills that could lead to an outright ban on the app on the American territory. His text has the support of the Biden administration.

Some 43 lobbyists, including former Democrat John Breaux, and Republican Trent Lott, 79 and 81 respectively, were dispatched by TikTok to prevent this scenario from succeeding.

Almost every morning, when Washington wakes up to the prestigious Playbook political newsletter, it hears: "We are committed to protecting your personal data, while providing you with the holistic TikTok experience you love" -- one of many advertisements bought by the platform in the American capital.

“Whenever you see advertisements in Washington, they are not aimed at the general American public,” underlines Sarah Bryner, researcher at the association OpenSecrets, which monitors the lobbying activities of companies. "They target parliamentary assistants, elected officials, civil servants...", she told AFP.

The pharmaceutical and agri-food industries, associations for the defense of firearms... Lobbying is not a new practice in Washington, where it is common to come across influence groups in the corridors of Congress, at the search for elected officials to woo.

For TikTok, this lobbying operation amounted to more than $5.3 million in 2022. This is more than Twitter spent for the same reason, and above all 20 times what the video platform paid in campaigns. lobbying in 2019.

But is TikTok's seduction operation likely to succeed?

Opening the TikTok boss's hearing on Thursday, Republican chairwoman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee Cathy Rodgers said bluntly, "Your platform needs to be banned."

23/03/2023 20:55:07 -         Washington (AFP) -         © 2023 AFP