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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Calls TikTok a 'Communication Tool' Amid National Security Concerns

'Whether we like it or not, that is a tool for disseminating important information,' said Whitmer

Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan downplayed the seriousness of security concerns over TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media app that has been banned on government-owned devices in more than 20 states.  

Whitmer said the video-based platform owned by ByteDance is a “communication tool.”

“We use TikTok on one device that has nothing else on it. It is a communication tool. We don’t do it because it’s fun, although some people think what I put out there can be fun on occasion,” Whitmer said during a Feb. 12 appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper.

“We have it on one device that has no access to anything else because so many people get their information that way,” the Democrat added. “Whether we like it or not, that is a tool for disseminating important information. And that’s how we use it.”

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts was the first state leader to ban TikTok on state-owned devices. As part of his December 2020 order, Ricketts noted the prohibition would “maintain the security of data owned by the State of Nebraska” and “safeguard against the intrusive cyber activities of China’s communist government.”

Since South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem issued a similar ban in November of 2022, 19 other governors have ordered their government to block the use of the app on state-owned devices. This included at least four Democratic governors. The TikTok bans also led colleges and universities in Alabama, Montana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Idaho, Texas, and Mississippi to prohibit the use of the app on their campuses. 

Under China’s 2017 National Security Law, all companies based in the country have to assist the government with intelligence work and turn over collected user data. TikTok collects a plethora of user information while installed on internet-connected devices, including mobile carriers, browsing histories, and geolocations. 

TikTok has refuted claims that user data is accessible to members of the Chinese Communist Party.

TikTok is banned on devices or networks owned by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and the Department of Defense as well as devices used by members of the House of Representatives and their staffs due to national security concerns.

Wisconsin Congressman Mike Gallagher and Illinois Congresswoman Raja Krishnamoorthi are currently leading a bipartisan effort to have TikTok removed as a corporate sponsor of ESPN.

“No Chinese company is truly private, because under China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, all citizens and businesses must assist in intelligence work, including sharing data,” Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi wrote in a joint statement. “Moreover, the company’s editor in chief, who is also the secretary of its internal CCP committee, stressed that the committee would ‘take the lead’ in ‘all product lines and business lines’ to ensure that ByteDance’s products have ‘correct political direction.’”

The representatives have asked ESPN to explain its vetting and decision-making process for sponsors.

Whitmer’s concerns are less about TikTok’s data harvesting and more about how any social media platform “drags people down rabbit holes” with “curated” posts. She indicated the federal government must intervene to prevent users from accessing possible disinformation.

“We need to have some congressional measures taken to ensure that there is some integrity in it,” said the governor. “But also we got to teach our kids that this is not a real robust offering of information for you to distill and make your own decisions. This is biased and it can be incredibly taxing.”

Whitmer also said President Joe Biden would have her “enthusiastic support” when he seeks reelection.

“He has delivered for the American people,” she told Tapper. 

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