U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke on the Senate floor about the national security threat TikTok poses to the United States and banning the app. See below for a lightly edited transcript. Watch on YouTube and Rumble.
Last month, Rubio reintroduced his ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act—the only bipartisan and bicameral legislation that would actually prevent TikTok from operating in the U.S.
This is not a First Amendment issue, because we’re not trying to ban booty videos. I don’t know if there’s a better term for it, but that’s not what we’re trying to ban. This is not about the content of the videos that are online. It is about the dangers to national security that are presented by the way that this company functions. And that’s what people don’t understand and what I think we owe people an explanation on.
The reason why TikTok, and all the social media companies for that matter, are addictive is that they collect a tremendous amount of data on the individual user. Not just what you’re doing, but what you’re doing across the platform, your pictures, everything. They want to learn as much [as possible], but not just because some guy is sitting there reading all this stuff. They feed it into an algorithm that’s powered by artificial intelligence. It knows you better than you know yourself. That’s why the more you use it, the more attractive the videos become to you, because they know exactly how your mind works better than you know how your mind works. At least the algorithm does.
So who owns the algorithm? The algorithm is owned by a company named ByteDance. That’s in China. Now, listen, I don’t care who owns ByteDance. I don’t care if it’s owned 100 percent by Americans. ByteDance operates out of China. And this is what we need to understand. There are no such things as private companies in China. They do not exist under Chinese law. [According to] their national security law, their national intelligence law, every company in China has to do whatever the Communist Party tells them.
So if the Communist Party goes to ByteDance and says, “We want you to use that algorithm to push these videos on Americans to convince them of whatever,” they have to do it. They don’t have an option. They may not want to do it, but ask Jack Ma what happens…when you don’t want to do what the Communist Party tells you to do. You move to Singapore for a year and disappear. That’s what happens. So all these people have to respond, and ByteDance has to answer to whatever they’re told.
Now, this thing about Oracle on the cloud, it sounds really good. Here’s the problem with it: it doesn’t matter where you store the data. You could store the data in my backyard in a locked safe. No matter what, for TikTok to work, you have to give the engineers in China access to it, because they control the algorithm. So it honestly doesn’t matter where the data is stored. They still have to open it up for the engineers at ByteDance in China to look at it, or the algorithm doesn’t work. Without the algorithm, there is no TikTok. You can’t buy the algorithm. Do you know why you can’t buy the algorithm? Because in 2020, the Chinese government imposed a law that says it is illegal. You cannot transfer the algorithm out of China.
What made me chuckle last week is when there was this talk of a forced sale. The Chinese government says, “We will block it.” And I’m like, “How can the Chinese government block the sale of a company they don’t control? How can the Chinese company block the sale of a company that’s not theirs?” The answer is, because under Chinese law, ByteDance cannot do anything that they’re not allowed to do….
The other one is, just sell TikTok. Again, TikTok is the name of this platform in the United States. I heard an argument made that there is no TikTok in China. There is an equivalent to TikTok in China. It’s just not called TikTok. TikTok U.S. is what they call it abroad. But there is an equivalent that uses the same AI formula. The difference is that the videos they allow over there are ones that don’t encourage you to choke yourself to death or drink poison or things of that nature.
But look, it’s not about the content. I’m not a fan of Facebook and how they handle things. I’m not a fan of any of these social media companies. But the difference is whatever they do wrong, they do because they want to. If the U.S. government goes tomorrow to Facebook and says, “We want you to do X,” they’ll probably say no. They wouldn’t need to listen to us under our law. You could subpoena them for records through a process that involves courts. None of that exists in China. And that’s the point that’s being missed here.
Last point I want to address: “No evidence that they’re doing anything now. You go on the video, you can search this, you can search that.” Absolutely. Because they understand that they want to grow their market share. But I would make the same argument about weapons. China has hypersonic missiles. There’s no evidence they’re firing them at us today. But why do they have them? The Soviet Union, now Russia, has intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads on them. They’ve never fired them on us. And yet we spend a lot of money making sure they don’t and trying to shoot them down if they do. Every threat is theoretical until the moment happens.
The truth of the matter is this: there’s this powerful amount of data, a powerful algorithm, entirely controlled at any time they want by the Chinese government operating in our country. And there is no other way to handle this. Not the sale of the company, not the storage of the data. If there was a lesser way to deal with this, I would be for it. But there isn’t. And that’s why since 2019, I’ve been calling for this to be banned. There is no other way to get control of this. The dangers it poses to the country are real. I think before we ban a company that 150 million Americans use, we owe them a better explanation than just, “Trust us, it’s bad.” I agree with that. And we should be doing more of it. But be under no illusion: this is a weapon.
And I would close with this. Think about all the people here that were freaking out because Russia was using bots to influence voters in America on Twitter, Facebook, or what have you. Imagine if Russia owned Facebook or Twitter, and not only owned them but told them, “You must use it this way.” Because that’s what we’re facing. That’s what we have on our hands here.
And not to mention the millions of small businesses in America that have grown because of TikTok. They will be hostages in the future to a Chinese government that can destroy their business at a moment’s notice unless they can convince their elected officials that America shouldn’t defend Taiwan or that America shouldn’t be tough on trade. However they want to weaponize it, the risk is real. I don’t waste my time going after social media platforms unless it’s important. This is important. I hope we’ll talk more about it. It deserves the attention that it’s starting to get.