Hundreds of employees at TikTok’s parent company ByteDance used to work for Chinese state media outlets — and more than a dozen apparently still do, Forbes reports.
Forbes surveyed LinkedIn profiles of ByteDance and TikTok employees and found that 300 people had previously worked for state media entities, with current roles at the tech firm including content partnerships, strategy, policy, monetization, and “media cooperation.”
Of the profiles Forbes reviewed, 15 suggested that the ByteDance employees work at the tech firm and state media outlets simultaneously. It’s possible these employees simply neglected to update their profiles — employees contacted by Forbes didn’t respond. But the overlap between state media and ByteDance employees appears well-established.
Forbes writes that ByteDance spokesperson Jennifer Banks didn’t contest that the 300 employees worked at the company or that they were previously affiliated with state media outlets. Hiring is done “purely on an individual’s professional capability to do the job,” Banks told Forbes.
“For our China-market businesses, that includes people who have previously worked in government or state media positions in China. Outside of China, employees also bring experience in government, public policy, and media organizations from dozens of markets.”
Regarding the 15 people whose profiles suggest they hold both jobs, Banks told Forbes that ByteDance “does not allow employees to hold second or part-time jobs, or any outside business activity, that would cause a conflict of interest.”
TikTok’s ascension to becoming one of the most popular apps in the US has prompted concerns from lawmakers that the platform’s ties to China pose a national security risk. Forbes writes:
People spend more time on TikTok today than they do on any other app. In recent months, the app has been hailed as a powerful driver of American culture, and has rapidly emerged as a critical player in our electoral and civic discourse. The LinkedIn profiles raise further concerns that China could use TikTok’s broad cultural influence in the US for its own ends, a fear that led a cohort of US politicians, including former president Donald Trump, to call for a ban on the app in 2019.
The profiles also provide critical insight into how ByteDance manages its relationship with Chinese state media entities. In addition to TikTok, ByteDance runs numerous other websites and services, including two of mainland China’s most popular apps: Douyin (a short-form video app) and Toutiao (a news aggregator). Chinese state media entities are among the most popular accounts on Douyin, where they have many millions of followers. Many of the LinkedIn profiles detail work on Toutiao and Douyin, which must comply with stringent Chinese censorship laws.
A smattering of reports in recent months detail the various ways TikTok is connected with its China-based owner ByteDance. In June, Buzzfeed News reported that US TikTok user data was repeatedly accessed by employees in China. And a Gizmodo story from July showed the lengths TikTok goes to distance itself from ByteDance, including an emphasis on “downplay[ing] the China association.”
The Forbes story notes that going from state media publications to working at ByteDance might be a fairly typical career path — people move between government and tech companies in the US, too. But for a company already under close scrutiny for its ties to foreign governments, the additional connections through employees are likely to raise questions.
Read the Forbes story here.