Hundreds of employees at TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, used to work for Chinese state media – and more than a dozen apparently still do, Forbes reports.
Forbes queried the LinkedIn profiles of ByteDance and TikTok employees and found that 300 people had previously worked for state media entities, with current roles at the tech company including content partnerships, strategy, politics, monetization and “media cooperation”.
Profiles Forbes examined, 15 suggested that ByteDance employees work at the tech company and state media simultaneously. It is possible that these employees simply failed to update their profile — employees contacted by Forbes did not respond. But the overlap between state media and ByteDance employees seems well established.
Forbes writes that ByteDance spokeswoman Jennifer Banks did not dispute that the 300 employees worked at the company or were formerly affiliated with state media. Hiring is done “purely on an individual’s professional ability to do the job,” Banks said. Forbes.
“For our companies in the Chinese market, this includes people who have worked in government positions or state media in China before. Outside of China, employees also bring experience in government, public policy and media organizations from dozens of markets.
Regarding the 15 people whose profiles suggest they hold both jobs, Banks said Forbes that ByteDance “does not permit employees to engage in secondary or part-time employment, or any outside business activity, that would result in a conflict of interest”.
TikTok’s rise to become one of the most popular apps in the United States has raised concerns among lawmakers that the platform’s ties to China pose a national security risk. Forbes writes:
People spend more time on TikTok today than on any other app. In recent months, the app has been hailed as a powerful driver of American culture and has quickly established itself as a vital player in our electoral and civic discourse. LinkedIn profiles raise new concerns that China could use TikTok’s broad cultural influence in the United States for its own purposes, a fear that has led a cohort of American politicians, including former President Donald Trump, to ask for the app to be banned in 2019.
The profiles also provide key information on how ByteDance handles its relationship with Chinese state media. In addition to TikTok, ByteDance runs many other websites and services, including two of mainland China’s most popular apps: Douyin (a short-form video app) and Toutiao (a news aggregator). Chinese state media are among the most popular accounts on Douyin, where they have several million followers. Many LinkedIn profiles detail the work on Toutiao and Douyin, who must comply with China’s strict censorship laws.
A handful of reports over the past few months detail the various ways TikTok is connected to its China-based owner ByteDance. In June, News reported that U.S. TikTok user data was repeatedly accessed by employees in China. And one Gizmodo July’s story showed how far TikTok is distancing itself from ByteDance, including a focus on “minimizing[ing] the Chinese association.
The Forbes the story notes that moving from state media publications to working at ByteDance might be a pretty typical career path — people also move between government and tech companies in the United States. But for a company already closely watched for its ties to foreign governments, the additional dealings through employees are likely to raise questions.
Read it Forbes story here.