Security Minister raises concerns about TikTok as news source

The security minister raised concerns about the growing number of young people reading the news on Chinese-owned social media sites such as TikTok.

Tom Tugendhat warned on Tuesday that “challenges” could be created if Beijing declares the platform’s algorithms a national security asset.

He used a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank to stress that it is “critical” that the public knows where the debates are coming from.

“We shouldn’t have them triggered by outside forces and a hidden hand. For too long, foreign interference has slowly seeped into British democracy,” he said.

Mr Tugendhat, who is among the politicians sanctioned by China, said the most pressing issues for the government are “acute threats”.

“But it is the strategic threats to our democracy because the acts are part of a systemic campaign over a long period of time to degrade our sovereignty that concerns me most,” he added.

The minister referred to the threat from Russia as well as Iran, and the “so-called overseas police stations that China has set up all over the country”.

But he sounded the alarm about the growing number of young people inquiring about TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance.

“The influence of social media platforms on our younger generations here in the UK and around the world is pervasive. Content from these platforms will influence minds,” he said.

“Yet it should be noted that foreign states have considerable influence over the algorithms that are the publisher of these sources. The challenge for a free country like ours is how to manage this debate.

Mr Tugendhat was pressed on whether he thought TikTok was being used as a tool by the Chinese state.

“The reality is that there are many different platforms, TikTok is one of them, and the reality is that editorial control is exercised by algorithms programmed by individuals,” he said.

“The idea that they are neutral actors controlled scientifically by editorial decisions, they are not, they are chosen.

“They are simply chosen by someone who has scheduled them in advance rather than someone who has decided to broadcast your story or someone else’s.

“Whether or not these sources are used to influence or shape the debate today, may not be the issue. The truth is that the bridge is under construction and what crosses it is yet to be determined.

But he did not say whether the government plans to regulate TikTok.

Instead, Tugendhat said, “If ByteDance declares, for example, the TikTok algorithm, or rather the Chinese state declares the algorithm, a national security asset, that poses challenges.”

In August, parliament shut down its TikTok account after MPs raised concerns about user data being sent to Beijing.

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