TikTok seeks more lobbyists as Trump ban aims to force US sale

  • TikTok
  • Wednesday, 12 Aug 2020

The popular Chinese-owned video app wants to beef up its Washington office as it races to sell its American operations to a domestic buyer before a presidential ban on the company takes effect next month. — Bloomberg

TikTok is looking for a few good lobbyists.

The popular Chinese-owned video app wants to beef up its Washington office as it races to sell its American operations to a domestic buyer before a presidential ban on the company takes effect next month.

The hiring spree comes as TikTok faces increasing pressure from US officials who say its locating-tracking capabilities and handling of Americans’ personal information are national security risks. US president Donald Trump is also seeking to curb China’s power over technology companies as he makes challenging China a central theme of his re-election campaign.

TikTok advertised multiple “government affairs” positions on Aug 3, just as the Trump administration was considering whether to ban the app or force TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance and its US service.

The company is seeking lobbyists who can do run-of-the-mill Washington influence-peddling, such as build relationships with political figures, track legislation, advocate for positions that protect the TikTok user community, engage with policymakers and identify issues that could affect the company.

“TikTok isn’t going anywhere,” the company said in a statement, noting that it has tripled the size of its US team since the beginning of 2020. “We are committed to the long-term success of our dedicated employees who work each and every day to make TikTok a unique and uplifting corner of the internet,” according to the statement.

TikTok has faced a steady pummeling from Trump. First he threatened to shut down TikTok if its owners didn’t sell the business to a US company by Sept 15. Then, on Aug 6, he signed a pair of executive orders prohibiting US residents from doing business with the Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat apps, effective in 45 days.

Microsoft Corp has been in talks about a possible purchase of TikTok’s operations in the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, Bloomberg has reported.

TikTok, whose service has more than 100 million American users, was already ramping up its lobbying muscle in Washington before Trump began threatening to ban it. Beijing-based ByteDance said it spent US$500,000 (RM2.09mil) on federal lobbying in the second quarter of 2020, breaking its previous record of US$300,000 (RM1.25mil) in the first three months.

TikTok’s Washington lobbying blitz started last year with efforts to broker meetings between company executives and high-profile senators. It tapped Michael Beckerman, the former president of the Internet Association trade group, to run its policy shop, and hired David Urban, a senior adviser to Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, as an outside lobbyist.

In recent months, the company has also hired Michael Hacker, a former aide to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn; Albert Calamug, a former legislative liaison for the Marine Corps; and Michael Bloom, a former Internet Association lobbyist, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

The social media company is looking for lobbyists with “established relationships” and experience working with Congress, the administration and agencies, according to a job posting on Daybook, a website that specializes in public-policy employment.

TikTok is also hiring a director for state government affairs to be a point of contact for elected officials. TikTok first posted an advertisement for that role as early as February and again in July, according to Daybook listings.

Other positions available at TikTok include a communications coordinator, a public policy director and a director of intermediary liability policy, who would draft positions on the legal obligations of social media platforms.

ByteDance, which was founded in China and is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, denies that TikTok harvests data for the Chinese government and says it stores Americans’ data in the U.S. and Singapore, not in China. – Bloomberg

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