WASHINGTON — A TikTok famous North Carolina lawmaker said Wednesday that while he recognizes “real” security concerns tied to the Chinese-owned video app, he’s also opposed to an outright ban.
Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson, who boasts 1.2 million followers on TikTok, said in an interview that he attributes some of his public recognition to the popular app, which has helped him reach constituents of varying ages.
“It just happens to be the case that you get way more views on TikTok than you do on Instagram or Facebook. Like 10 times as many,” Jackson, 40, told NBC News. “I have been able to reach a lot of people, and at the same time I think the security concerns are real.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray warned in November that the app owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd. poses national security risks, and that China’s government could use it to influence U.S. users or control their devices.
“I don’t think he was being hyperbolic,” Jackson said of Wray’s assessment.
Jackson said that data privacy and concerns about the app’s algorithm highlighted by Wray “are going to be very hard to resolve as long as this remains a Chinese-owned company.”
TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, is set to deliver testimony for the first time to Congress, in a hearing Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. His appearance comes amid a bipartisan push to address security concerns surrounding the app, but also as TikTok’s supporters voice their opposition to a potential ban.
Asked whether he believed TikTok was too big to ban, based on its millions of U.S. users, Jackson said, “I think they have a case to make about how many Americans are using this, and I think the case is that a ban is clearly not the best case scenario.”
Instead, he argued, a change in ownership was “necessary at this point.”
A TikTok spokesperson last week said, “If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access.”
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said last week that the U.S. had failed to provide any evidence that TikTok poses a threat to its national security.
Defending his own use of the app, Jackson said he has taken steps to ensure data protection, including keeping a “burner phone” whose sole application is TikTok. He said he doesn’t have the app on his government-issued or personal phones. TikTok is banned on House-issued mobile devices.
“It’s worth it to have a dedicated phone and to have it be a bit of a headache sometimes to use just because there are a lot of people I can reach,” Jackson said.
A measure banning TikTok on some government devices was included in a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill that President Joe Biden signed into law late last year.
For Jackson, whose TikTok base is outpaced by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 1.4 million, the app has helped him reach a wide audience, including users from a senior living facility in his district.
“People appreciate that I’m on TikTok,” the first-term lawmaker said. “I get recognized more in public because of TikTok, frankly, than any other app. People mentioned to me more having seen me on TikTok than other places.”
Kate Santaliz contributed.