WEST CHESTER, Pa. — Disinformation has long been a feature of American politics. Mudslinging, smear campaigns, dirty tricks. Yet wading through the muck ahead of this year’s midterm elections in one fiercely contested state, Pennsylvania, shows just how thoroughly it now warps the American democratic process.
In July, a tweet made the rounds spreading a falsehood about voting. “BREAKING: Pennsylvania will not be accepting mail-in ballots,” declared someone using an account called the Donald J. Trump Tracker.
In September, mysterious letters began arriving in mailboxes in Chester County, on the old Main Line west of Philadelphia, falsely telling people that their votes might not have been counted in the last election.
No, the Democratic candidate for United States Senate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, does not have tattoos of the Crips, the notorious street gang from Los Angeles, as Newt Gingrich said on Fox.
contentious primaries, Pennsylvanians have experienced a deluge of false or misleading posts, photographs and videos on social media, as well as increasingly partisan, bitter and at times unhinged claims on television, radio and live streams to a degree that no one recalled seeing before.
“I’m not saying the politics was ever, you know, perfect,” Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia from 2008 to 2016, said in an interview, lamenting the seemingly bottomless depth of the problem.
“I think what’s changed is you go back 100 years and you’d have had to put a whole lot more effort into spreading lies,” he said. “Now, you can just push a button.”
A lot of attention has focused on a stroke that Mr. Fetterman suffered in May, just as he clinched the Democratic nomination. The stroke left him with an auditory processing disorder, a condition that affects the brain’s ability to filter and interpret sounds, which Republicans have said makes him unfit for office. His speech has also become more halting, and he stumbles over his words, as he did multiple times in the debate last week against his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, the television personality known as Dr. Oz.
Opponents used his verbal gaffes in misleading ways. A video montage by a Republican campaign operative, Greg Price, exaggerated the effects of the stroke, while a Twitter account impersonating BuzzFeed falsely claimed that Mr. Fetterman had apologized for urinating on a campaign staffer. Mr. Price did not respond to requests for comment.
Other false claims have, again, questioned the machines that count votes, while a recent flurry of posts on Telegram, the app created in Russia, have incorrectly accused the state’s top election official of not complying with legal rulings about mail-in ballots. ActiveFence, a cybersecurity company, said that these claims have spread across platforms, garnering tens of thousands of impressions.
Jill Greene, the state representative for Common Cause, the national good-government organization, said that the many unfounded and untruthful claims posed a challenge for voters.
pledged to remove or marginalize false posts ahead of the midterms.
A doctored post on Facebook, to cite one of scores of examples, showed Mr. Oz kneeling to kiss the star of Donald J. Trump along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (In the original, he was kissing his own star.)
being repeatedly told that the American election process is deeply corrupted.
In fact, Mr. Mastriano’s candidacy has from its inception been propelled by his role in disputing the 2020 presidential election lost by Mr. Trump.
county by county, but election experts say they do not reflect factors as benign as changes in addresses.
“They’re in search of solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist,” Kyle Miller, a Navy veteran and state representative for Protect Democracy, a national advocacy organization, said in an interview in Harrisburg. “They are basing this on faulty data and internet rumors.”
Some Republican lawmakers have leaned on false claims to call for changes to rules about mail-in ballots and other measures intended to make it easier for people to vote. Several counties have already reversed some of the decisions, including the number and location of drop boxes for ballots.
Mr. Miller, among others, warned that the flurry of false claims about balloting could be a trial run for challenging the results of the presidential election in 2024, in which Pennsylvania could again be a crucial swing state.
In Chester County, a largely white region that borders Delaware and Maryland that is roughly split between Republicans and Democrats, the effort to sow confusion came the old-fashioned way: in the mail.
Letters dated Sept. 12 began arriving in mailboxes across the county, warning people that their votes in the 2020 presidential election might not have counted. “Because you have a track record of consistently voting, we find it unusual that your record indicates that you did not vote,” the letter, which was unsigned, said.
The sender called itself “Data Insights,” based in the county seat of West Chester, though no known record of such a company exists, according to county officials. The letters did include copies of the recipients’ voting records. The letters urged recipients to write to the county commissioners or attend the commission’s meetings in the county seat of West Chester, in September and October. Dozens of recipients did.
The county administrator, Robert J. Kagel, tried to assure them that their votes were actually counted. He urged anyone concerned to contact the county’s voter services department.
Even so, at county meetings in September and October, speaker after speaker lined up to question the letter and the ballot process generally — and to air an array of grievances and conspiracy theories.
They included the discredited claims of the film “2000 Mules” that operatives have been stuffing boxes for mail-in ballots. One attendee warned that votes were being tabulated by the Communist Party of China or the World Economic Forum.
“I don’t know where my vote is,” another resident, Barbara Ellis of Berwyn, told the commissioners in October. “I don’t know if it was manipulated in the machines, in another country.”
As of Oct. 20, 59 people in Chester County had contacted officials with concerns raised in the letter, but in each case, it was determined that the voters’ ballots had been cast and counted, said Rebecca Brain, a county spokesman.
Who exactly sent the letters remains a mystery, which only fuels more conspiracy theories.
“It seems very official,” Charlotte Valyo, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party in the county, said of the letter. She described it as part of “an ongoing, constant campaign to undermine the confidence in our voting system.” The county’s Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.
Disinformation may not be the only cause of the deepening partisan chasm in the state — or the nation — but it has undoubtedly worsened it. The danger, Ms. Valyo warned, was discouraging voting by sowing distrust in the ability of election officials to tally the votes.
“People might think, ‘Why bother, if they’re that messed up?’”
Gearing up to report this year’s midterm election results, American television networks are facing an uncomfortable question: How many viewers will believe them?
Amid rampant distrust in the news media and a rash of candidates who have telegraphed that they may claim election fraud if they lose, news anchors and executives are seeking new ways to tackle the attacks on the democratic process that have infected politics since the last election night broadcast in 2020.
“For entrepreneurs of chaos, making untrue claims about the election system is a route to greater glory,” said John Dickerson, the chief political analyst at CBS News, who will co-anchor the network’s coverage on Nov. 8. “Elections and the American experiment exist basically on faith in the system, and if people don’t have any faith in the system, they may decide to take things into their own hands.”
CBS has been televising elections since 1948. But this is the first year that the network has felt obligated to install a dedicated “Democracy Desk” as a cornerstone of its live coverage. Seated a few feet from the co-anchors in the network’s Times Square studio, election law experts and correspondents will report on fraud allegations and threats of violence at the polls.
one-third of adults in a recent Gallup poll expressing confidence in it.
“I can’t control what politicians are going to say, if they choose to call an election result into question,” said David Chalian, CNN’s political director. “You’ve got to be clear, when it’s a partial picture, that nothing about that is untoward.”
Two years ago, TV networks prepared for pandemic-related ballot headaches and speculation that President Donald J. Trump might resist conceding defeat.
“blue wave” had fizzled and that Republicans would retain control of the House. It was Fox News again, working off a proprietary data model, that made the correct call that Democrats would take the chamber.
controversial Arizona call in 2020. Although Fox’s projection was eventually proved correct, it took several days for other news outlets to concur, and Mr. Trump turned his wrath on the network in retaliation. The network later fired a top executive, Chris Stirewalt, who was involved in the decision to announce the call so early; another executive involved in the decision, Bill Sammon, promptly retired.
“What we want to be, always, is right — and first is really nice — but right is what we want to be,” said Mr. Baier of Fox. “In the wake of 2020, we’re going to be looking at numbers very closely, and there may be times when we wait for more raw vote total than we have in the past.”
“It’ll be a lot smoother than that moment,” he added, referring to when he and his fellow co-anchors were visibly caught by surprise as their colleagues projected a victory for Mr. Biden in Arizona. Fox officials later ascribed the confusion to poor communication among producers.
“I think,” Mr. Baier said, “we all learned a lot from that experience.”
LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–AHF and its housing advocacy division, Housing Is A Human Right (HHR), will run the latest in a series of housing advocacy ads, this time targeting both the City of Los Angeles and the entrenched bureaucracy at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) in a full-page, full-color ad set to run this Sunday, October 30th in the Los Angeles Times. The ad headlined “LA’s Housing Standstill,” condemns all the players holding up creation of affordable housing, stating that “It is virtually impossible to get anything built in Los Angeles in less than five years.”
After launching its Healthy Housing Foundation (HHF) in 2017 to help alleviate the twin homelessness and housing affordability crises in Los Angeles, AHF quickly learned that working within the city’s existing framework and bureaucracies—like the DWP—to produce low-income housing in Los Angeles is disastrous for people seeking to create affordable housing—even more so for those individuals who need it.
AHF’s ad continues:
“The city claims homelessness is an emergency, but it sure doesn’t act like it.
Whether it’s DWP bringing in power or getting plans approved-nobody’s in a hurry.
But if we are to tackle homelessness, we need urgency.”
AHF summed up its cri de couer for far greater urgency by all city departments, including DWP, noting:
“1,500 people die on the streets every year.”
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to over 1.6 million clients in 45 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Europe. To learn more about AHF, please visit our website: www.aidshealth.org, find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/aidshealth and follow us on Twitter: @aidshealthcare and Instagram: @aidshealthcare
Forget about the endless drama, the bots, the abrupt reversals, the spectacle, the alleged risk to the Republic and all we hold dear. Here is the most important thing about Elon Musk’s buying Twitter: The moguls have been unleashed.
In the old days, when a tech tycoon wanted to buy something big, he needed a company to do it. Steve Case used AOL to buy Time Warner. Jeff Bezos bought Whole Foods for Amazon. Mark Zuckerberg used Facebook to buy Instagram and WhatsApp and Oculus and on and on. These were corporate deals done for the bottom line, even if they might never have happened without a famous and forceful proprietor.
Mr. Musk’s $44 billion takeover of Twitter, which finally became a reality on Thursday, six months after he agreed to the deal, is different. It is an individual buying something for himself that 240 million people around the world use regularly. While he has other investors, Mr. Musk will have absolute control over the fate of the short-message social media platform.
It’s a difficult deal to evaluate even in an industry built on deals, because this one is so unusual. It came about whimsically, impulsively. But, even by the standards of Silicon Valley, where billions are casually offered for fledging operations — and even by the wallet of Mr. Musk, on most days the richest man in the world — $44 billion is quite a chunk of change.
the midterm elections’ most prominent campaign contributor, pumping tens of millions of dollars into right-wing congressional candidates. Two of his former employees are the Republican nominees for senator in Ohio and Arizona.
Elon Musk’s Acquisition of Twitter
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A blockbuster deal. In April, Elon Musk made an unsolicited bid worth $44 billion for the social media platform, saying he wanted to turn Twitter into a private company and allow people to speak more freely on the service. Here’s how the monthslong battle that followed played out:
A surprise move. On Oct. 4, Mr. Musk proposed a deal to acquire Twitter for $44 billion, the price he agreed to pay for the company in April. On Oct. 27, the purchase was completed. Mr. Musk quickly began cleaning house, with at least four top Twitter executives — including the chief executive and chief financial officer — getting fired.
Richard Walker, a professor emeritus of economic geography at the University of California, Berkeley and a historian of Silicon Valley, sees a shift in the locus of power.
“In this new Gilded Age, we’re being battered by billionaires rather than the corporations that were the face of the 20th century,” he said. “And the tech titans are leading the way.”
bought The Washington Post for $250 million. Marc Benioff of Salesforce owns Time magazine. Pierre Omidyar of eBay developed a homegrown media empire.
Deals have been a feature of Silicon Valley as long as there has been a Silicon Valley. Often they fail, especially when the acquisition was made for technology that either quickly grew outdated or never really worked at all. At least one venerable company, Hewlett-Packard, followed that strategy and has practically faded away.
$70 billion-plus acquisition of Activision Blizzard, which is pending, has garnered a fraction of the attention despite being No. 2.
said in April after sealing the deal. “I don’t care about the economics at all.”
He cared a little more when the subsequent plunge in the stock market meant that he was overpaying by a significant amount. Analysts estimated that Twitter was worth not $44 billion but $30 billion, or maybe even less. For a few months, Mr. Musk tried to get out of the deal.
This had the paradoxical effect of bringing the transaction down to earth for spectators. Who among us has not failed to do due diligence on a new venture — a job, a house, even a relationship — and then realized that it was going to cost so much more than we had thought? Mr. Musk’s buying Twitter, and then his refusal to buy Twitter, and then his being forced to buy Twitter after all — and everything playing out on Twitter — was weirdly relatable.
Inescapable, too. The apex, or perhaps the nadir, came this month when Mr. Musk introduced a perfume called Burnt Hair, described on its website as “the Essence of Repugnant Desire.”
“Please buy my perfume, so I can buy Twitter,” Mr. Musk tweeted on Oct. 12, garnering nearly 600,000 likes. This worked, apparently; the perfume is now marked “sold out” on its site. Did 30,000 people really pay $100 each for a bottle? Will this perfume actually be produced and sold? (It’s not supposed to be released until next year.) It’s hard to tell where the joke stops, which is perhaps the point.
“What was unique about Twitter was that no one actually controlled it,” said Richard Greenfield, a media analyst at LightShed Partners. “And now one person will own it in its entirety.”
He is relatively hopeful, however, that Mr. Musk will improve the site, somehow. That, in turn, will have its own consequences.
“If it turns into a massive home run,” Mr. Greenfield said, “you’ll see other billionaires try to do the same thing.”
The advent of computer modeling helped automate voter targeting, making it more efficient.
In the 1960s, a market researcher in Los Angeles, Vincent Barabba, developed a computer program to help political campaigns decide which neighborhoods to target. The system overlaid voting precinct maps with details on individuals’ voting histories along with U.S. census data on household economics, ethnic makeup and family composition.
In 1966, political consultants used the system to help Ronald Reagan’s campaign for governor of California identify neighborhoods with potential swing voters, like middle-aged, white, male union members, and target them with ads.
Critics worried about the technology’s potential to influence voters, deriding it as a “sinister new development dreamt up by manipulative social scientists,” according to “Selling Ronald Reagan,” a book on the Hollywood actor’s political transformation.
By the early 2000s, campaigns had moved on to more advanced targeting methods.
For the re-election campaign of President George W. Bush in 2004, Republican consultants classified American voters into discrete buckets, like “Flag and Family Republicans” and “Religious Democrats.” Then they used the segmentation to target Republicans and swing voters living in towns that typically voted Democrat, said Michael Meyers, the president of TargetPoint Consulting, who worked on the Bush campaign.
In 2008, the Obama presidential campaign widely used individualized voter scores. Republicans soon beefed up their own voter-profiling and targeting operations.
A decade later, when Cambridge Analytica — a voter-profiling firm that covertly data-mined and scored millions of Facebook users — became front-page news, many national political campaigns were already using voter scores. Now, even local candidates use them.
This spring, the Government Accountability Office issued a report warning that the practice of consumer scoring lacked transparency and could cause harm. Although the report did not specifically examine voter scores, it urged Congress to consider enacting consumer protections around scoring.
ATLANTA–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Beazer Homes (NYSE: BZH) (www.beazer.com) has scheduled the release of its financial results for the quarter ended September 30, 2022 on Thursday, November 10, 2022 after the close of the market. Management will host a conference call on the same day at 5:00 PM ET to discuss the results.
The public may listen to the conference call and view the Company’s slide presentation on the “Investor Relations” page of the Company’s website, www.beazer.com. In addition, the conference call will be available by telephone at 800-475-0542 (for international callers, dial 517-308-9429). To be admitted to the call, enter the pass code “8571348.” A replay of the conference call will be available, until 10:00 PM ET on November 18, 2022 at 888-566-0411 (for international callers, dial 203-369-3041) with pass code “3740.”
About Beazer Homes
Headquartered in Atlanta, Beazer Homes (NYSE: BZH) is one of the country’s largest homebuilders. Every Beazer home is designed and built to provide Surprising Performance, giving you more quality and more comfort from the moment you move in – saving you money every month. With Beazer’s Choice Plans™, you can personalize your primary living areas – giving you a choice of how you want to live in the home, at no additional cost. And unlike most national homebuilders, we empower our customers to shop and compare loan options. Our Mortgage Choice program gives you the resources to easily compare multiple loan offers and choose the best lender and loan offer for you, saving you thousands over the life of your loan.
We build our homes in Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. For more information, visit beazer.com, or check out Beazer on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
On the morning of July 8, former President Donald J. Trump took to Truth Social, a social media platform he founded with people close to him, to claim that he had in fact won the 2020 presidential vote in Wisconsin, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Barely 8,000 people shared that missive on Truth Social, a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of responses his posts on Facebook and Twitter had regularly generated before those services suspended his megaphones after the deadly riot on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021.
And yet Mr. Trump’s baseless claim pulsed through the public consciousness anyway. It jumped from his app to other social media platforms — not to mention podcasts, talk radio or television.
Within 48 hours of Mr. Trump’s post, more than one million people saw his claim on at least dozen other media. It appeared on Facebook and Twitter, from which he has been banished, but also YouTube, Gab, Parler and Telegram, according to an analysis by The New York Times.
gone mainstream among Republican Party members, driving state and county officials to impose new restrictions on casting ballots, often based on mere conspiracy theories percolating in right-wing media.
Voters must now sift through not only an ever-growing torrent of lies and falsehoods about candidates and their policies, but also information on when and where to vote. Officials appointed or elected in the name of fighting voter fraud have put themselves in the position to refuse to certify outcomes that are not to their liking.
a primary battleground in today’s fight against disinformation. A report last month by NewsGuard, an organization that tracks the problem online, showed that nearly 20 percent of videos presented as search results on TikTok contained false or misleading information on topics such as school shootings and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
continued to amplify “election denialism” in ways that undermined trust in the democratic system.
Another challenge is the proliferation of alternative platforms for those falsehoods and even more extreme views.
new survey by the Pew Research Center found that 15 percent of prominent accounts on those seven platforms had previously been banished from others like Twitter and Facebook.
F.B.I. raid on Mar-a-Lago thrust his latest pronouncements into the eye of the political storm once again.
study of Truth Social by Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring group, examined how the platform had become a home for some of the most fringe conspiracy theories. Mr. Trump, who began posting on the platform in April, has increasingly amplified content from QAnon, the online conspiracy theory.
He has shared posts from QAnon accounts more than 130 times. QAnon believers promote a vast and complex conspiracy that centers on Mr. Trump as a leader battling a cabal of Democratic Party pedophiles. Echoes of such views reverberated through Republican election campaigns across the country during this year’s primaries.
Ms. Jankowicz, the disinformation expert, said the nation’s social and political divisions had churned the waves of disinformation.
The controversies over how best to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic deepened distrust of government and medical experts, especially among conservatives. Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election led to, but did not end with, the Capitol Hill violence.
“They should have brought us together,” Ms. Jankowicz said, referring to the pandemic and the riots. “I thought perhaps they could be kind of this convening power, but they were not.”
IRVING, Texas–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Fluor Corporation (NYSE: FLR) announced today that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has extended the Fluor-led Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, LLC (SRNS) management and operating contract at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina. The extension includes 4 years with an additional 1-year option. The total reimbursable contract value is $12 billion for 5 years, and Fluor will book its 4-year, $4.5 billion portion in the third quarter.
SRNS will continue uninterrupted management and operations activities at the site.
“This extension represents the DOE’s confidence in our performance to help safeguard our nation’s security and deliver on the important mission at the site,” said Tom D’Agostino, group president of Fluor’s Mission Solutions business. “We are continually improving efficiencies to accelerate program objectives and lower costs while also delivering capital projects of every scale. Our success is the result of a constant focus on the safety and security of our workers and protecting the surrounding communities and the environment.”
Work performed at the Savannah River Site includes environmental management and the cleanup of legacy materials, facilities and waste remaining from the Cold War. The site also supports and maintains the nuclear weapons stockpile as well as processing and storing nuclear materials in support of U.S. nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
About Fluor Corporation
Fluor Corporation (NYSE: FLR) is building a better future by applying world-class expertise to solve its clients’ greatest challenges. Fluor’s 41,000 employees provide professional and technical solutions that deliver safe, well-executed, capital-efficient projects to clients around the world. Fluor had revenue of $12.4 billion in 2021 and is ranked 259 among the Fortune 500 companies. With headquarters in Irving, Texas, Fluor has provided engineering, procurement and construction services for more than 110 years. For more information, please visit www.fluor.com or follow Fluor on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.
TikTok recently tried to tamp down concerns from U.S. lawmakers that it poses a national security threat because it is owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance. The viral video app insisted it had an arm’s-length relationship with ByteDance and that its own executive was in charge.
“TikTok is led by its own global C.E.O., Shou Zi Chew, a Singaporean based in Singapore,” TikTok wrote in a June letter to U.S. lawmakers.
But in fact, Mr. Chew’s decision-making power over TikTok is limited, according to 12 former TikTok and ByteDance employees and executives.
Zhang Yiming, ByteDance’s founder, as well as by a top ByteDance strategy executive and the head of TikTok’s research and development team, said the people, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals. TikTok’s growth and strategy, which are led by ByteDance teams, report not to Mr. Chew but to ByteDance’s office in Beijing, they said.
increasingly questioned TikTok’s data practices, reigniting a debate over how the United States should treat business relationships with foreign companies.
On Wednesday, TikTok’s chief operating officer testified in Congress and downplayed the app’s China connections. On Thursday, President Biden signed an executive order to sharpen the federal government’s powers to block Chinese investment in tech in the United States and to limit its access to private data on citizens.
a March interview with the billionaire investor David Rubenstein, whose firm, the Carlyle Group, has a stake in the Chinese giant. Mr. Chew added that he had become familiar with TikTok as a “creator” and amassed “185,000 followers.” (He appeared to be referring to a corporate account that posted videos of him while he was an executive at Xiaomi, one of China’s largest phone manufacturers.)
Jinri Toutiao. The two built a rapport, and an investment vehicle associated with Mr. Milner led a $10 million financing in Mr. Zhang’s company that same year, three people with knowledge of the deal said.
The news aggregator eventually became ByteDance — now valued at around $360 billion, according to PitchBook — and owns TikTok; its Chinese sister app, Douyin; and various education and enterprise software ventures.
By 2015, Mr. Chew had joined Xiaomi as chief financial officer. He spearheaded the device maker’s 2018 initial public offering, led its international efforts and became an English-speaking face for the brand.
“Shou grew up with both American and Chinese language and culture surrounding him,” said Hugo Barra, a former Google executive who worked with Mr. Chew at Xiaomi. “He is objectively better positioned than anyone I’ve ever met in the China business world to be this incredible dual-edged executive in a Chinese company that wants to become a global powerhouse.”
In March 2021, Mr. Chew announced that he was joining ByteDance as chief financial officer, fueling speculation that the company would go public. (It remains privately held.)
appointed Mr. Chew as chief executive, with Mr. Zhang praising his “deep knowledge of the company and industry.” Late last year, Mr. Chew stepped down from his ByteDance role to focus on TikTok.
Kevin Mayer, a former Disney executive, left after the Trump administration’s effort to sunder the app from its Chinese parent. China was also cracking down on its domestic internet giants, with Mr. Zhang resigning from his official roles at ByteDance last year. Mr. Zhang remains involved in decision making, people with knowledge of ByteDance said.
Mr. Chew moved to establish himself as TikTok’s new head during visits to the app’s Los Angeles office in mid-2021. At a dinner with TikTok executives, he sought to build camaraderie by keeping a Culver City, Calif., restaurant open past closing time, three people with knowledge of the event said. He asked attendees if he should buy the establishment to keep it open longer, they said.
a TikTok NFT project involving the musical artists Lil Nas X and Bella Poarch. He reprimanded TikTok’s global head of marketing on a video call with Beijing-based leaders for ByteDance after some celebrities dropped out of the project, four people familiar with the meeting said. It showed that Mr. Chew answered to higher powers, they said.
Mr. Chew also ended a half-developed TikTok store off Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, three people familiar with the initiative said. TikTok briefly explored obtaining the naming rights of the Los Angeles stadium formerly known as the Staples Center, they said.
He has also overseen layoffs of American managers, two people familiar with the decisions said, while building up teams related to trust and safety. In its U.S. marketing, the app has shifted its emphasis from a brand that starts trends and conversations toward its utility as a place where people can go to learn.
In May, Mr. Chew flew to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, speaking with European regulators and ministers from Saudi Arabia to discuss digital strategy.
June letter to U.S. lawmakers, he noted that ByteDance employees in China could gain access to the data of Americans when “subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls.” But he said TikTok was in the process of separating and securing its U.S. user data under an initiative known as Project Texas, which has the app working with the American software giant Oracle.
“We know we’re among the most scrutinized platforms,” Mr. Chew wrote.
TikTok has been under scrutiny since a social media company claimed the app was collection data from Americans and giving China access to U.S. info.
As far back as 2020, former President Donald Trump attempted to force the sale of the social media company TikTok to Oracle, claiming that the app was storing data collected on its American user base in China, and thus enabling the possible surveillance of U.S. citizens. That sale was eventually blocked, but it opened the door to a cycle in which, every few months, U.S. government entities attempt new investigations into TikTok’s data collection.
It begs the question — what exactly is novel about these data misuse accusations in 2022?
The newest cycle started in June, when Buzzfeed published leaked audio from 80 internal TikTok meetings which showed that U.S. data was “repeatedly” accessed from China. Around the same time, Republican FCC Chair Brendan Carr published a letter in which he claimed to have new evidence that TikTok “harvests swaths of sensitive data” that “are being accessed in Beijing.”
The conversation shifted from data storage or giving data away to the Chinese government, to data access.
“You can think about this as a Google drive, right? So you or most of us will have something on our Google Drives. And when we want to share photos with our loved ones, for example, we don’t actually send a USB drive to them. We just provide them with a link to our Google Drive folder and thereby they can access the photos from there,” said Ausma Bernotaite, a candidate at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University.
John Wihbey is an associate professor of Media Innovation at Northeastern University.
“I think there are some — there are some legitimate concerns that with some combination of otherwise private data, that the Chinese government could be building profiles about U.S. persons, and could be potentially tuning algorithms at various key points in the electoral cycles in the United States to try to influence voter behavior,” said Wihbey. “And we don’t yet know exactly how that data could be exploited.”
Related StoryA Second Judge Blocks U.S. Government’s Tik Tok Ban
The other important question at hand here is whether TikTok collects more intrusive data than other social media companies. Any American platform with bottom line based on using personal data to serve ads could be collecting similar data.
“U.S. social media platforms like Snapchat, then Facebook, now Meta, Instagram, Pinterest have been taking advantage of that surveillance capitalism, as we call it. Just really monetizing our attention,” said Bernotaite. “And now we have a different actor. So, it’s kind of like the devil we don’t know in a way, because we’ve not really had to deal with Tiktok’s corporate representatives for that long.”
Bernotaite noted that until we find ways to ensure data transparency from all social media companies, regardless of where they’re based, we’re never going to find out exactly if and whether data misuse is occurring. But that may be easier said than done. Wihbey told Newsy that much of this issue is driven by competition concerns, so we may not get to that point if the U.S. wants to ensure that its social media companies can stand alongside TikTok.
“The United States has almost entirely dominated this space of media, entertainment, social platforms. China has done very well to grow its own domestic market and has impressive companies there, but they really haven’t reached the rest of the world. So, this is their big winner in this early phase of an ongoing battle between the two countries over media and communications technologies,” said Wihbey.