ByteDance, the company that owns hit video platform TikTok, tries to play down its Chinese origins, according to leaked documents obtained by a US tech website.
The firm seems to think its biggest public perception problem is that it’s from China, according to the trove of material accessed by Gizmodo.
The documents include a 53-page file called TikTok Master Messaging. It appears to outline key messages the company wants the public to hear.
“Downplay the parent company ByteDance, downplay the China association, downplay AI,” is the key message for TikTok employees talking to media, Gizmodo reported.
According to Gizmodo, TikTok staff are advised to emphasise distance between the app and its corporate owner.
Recommended Response to Media Questions
“Bytedance is the holding company of TikTok. TikTok employees cannot comment on ByteDance. We will refer to ByteDance itself,” Tiktok recommends as a response to media questions, Gizmodo reported.
TikTok’s Chinese ownership has been a longstanding bugbear, especially in the US. Last month, US Federal Communications Commission member Brendan Carr wrote to Apple and Google, calling on them to remove TikTok from their app stores.
Carr described TikTok as a data-gathering tool for the Chinese authorities. Activists in Australia have also called for a ban.
Indian authorities have prohibited the app since January 2021, although the Economic Times reported last month that it was seeking to re-enter the market through a partnership with Hiranandani Group.
Tiktok has also been banned in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Armenia and Azerbaijan but for reasons unrelated to its Chinese origin or allegations of data gathering.
TikTok is not available in China, while ByteDance halted the app’s operations in Hong Kong in 2020 after Beijing imposed a new national security law on the special administrative region.
- George Russell