Washington Post technology columnist Taylor Lorenz, the self-described “most online reporter that you can find” said Thursday in a discussion hosted by the libertarian magazine Reason that she doesn’t know where TikTok is headquartered or that a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) member holds an executive position with the tech company’s parent, ByteDance.
“I actually don’t know where TikTok is based,” she said. “Umm. The CEO was in Singapore. Umm. So he’s there and then it’s [sic] the U.S. it’s sort of run regionally around the world.”
The former New York Times reporter also questioned whether it was “true” that a CCP official serves in a senior position at ByteDance. “Is that true? Is that true? Is that true?” Lorenz said. (Zhang Fuping, who serves as ByteDance’s editor in chief, is a Chinese Community Party secretary.)
Tik Tok is headquartered in Culver City, Calif. Its CEO Shou Zi Chew, who was grilled in a high-profile congressional hearing about which Lorenz wrote, works out of Singapore. TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, which has a close relationship with the CCP, is headquartered in Beijing, and Lorenz visited a TikTok office “adjacent” to its headquarters just two months ago for a story about the company’s “charm offensive.”
The controversial columnist, a TikTok user herself, appeared to laugh off concerns about the national security risks posed by the platform and applauded the tech company’s algorithm for empowering its users. (FBI Director Chris Wray testified last November that TikTok’s algorithm could be a means of CCP influence in the United States.)
Lorenz’s remarks come amid TikTok’s own enormous public-relations campaign —the company last month brought on the Democratic lobbying firm SKDK, which has deep ties to the Biden White House – and reveal how some of the country’s leading journalists are sympathetic to the company’s plight.
Lorenz, who attended a 16-year-old TikTok celebrity’s birthday party, did not respond to a request for comment.
During the Reason discussion Lorenz said she was “dying” at the alleged ignorance of the lawmakers who grilled Chew. And late last month she wrote a fact-check attacking Republican lawmakers who participated in the hearing. In emails to their aides obtained by the Free Beacon, she demanded an explanation for allegedly false claims the lawmakers never made.
Lorenz wrote in an email request for comment that Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R., Wash.) claimed TikTok users can’t post negative content about China. A review of her questions shows McMorris Rodgers had asked Chew whether TikTok had ever censored content about Tiananmen Square. And TikTok undoubtedly had: A 2019 Guardian report revealed “how TikTok censors videos that do not please Beijing,” instructing the company’s content moderators to “censor videos that mention Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, or the banned religious group Falun Gong, according to leaked documents detailing the site’s moderation guidelines.”
She also claimed Rep. Bob Latta (D., Va.) had falsely attributed the “blackout challenge”–in which children are encouraged to hold their breath until they pass out–to TikTok. The lawmaker did no such thing, instead he asked Chew why TikTok did nothing to moderate such challenges. Latta spoke on the death of a 10-year-old girl who died in Pennsylvania after trying the blackout challenge, which she saw trending on TikTok. The girl’s parents blame TikTok for their daughter’s death and they have company—two families sued TikTok last summer after their kids died of self-strangulation.
Lorenz used a similar tactic to go after Rep. Buddy Carter for connecting the “sleepy chicken” trend, in which users cook chicken in NyQuil cough syrup, to TikTok. She told Carter his questions were “false,” and writes in her piece that sleepy chicken was “never” a TikTok trend. Don’t tell her employer, which in October 2022 published a piece that describes the sleepy chicken as “a TikTok challenge in which people boil a whole chicken in over-the-counter cough and cold medicine.”
In Thursday’s discussion, Lorenz said she doesn’t believe the government has a role in policing misinformation and disinformation on the internet. “It’s always bizarre to me when people accuse me of saying, like, I want some sort of censorship because I talk about misinformation. Never once have I said the government should be determining what is misinformation or censoring anything on social platforms,” she said.
Last May, Lorenz wrote a sprawling investigation into the Biden administration’s decision to sundown its Disinformation Governance Board entitled “How the Biden administration let right-wing attacks derail its disinformation efforts.” The defunct board’s leader, Nina Jankowicz, “was the victim of coordinated online attacks,” she concluded.
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