In the last two years, at least five U.S.-based TikTok executives have left the company, in part due to the realization that they would have no real authority.
- After learning that they would have little influence in decision making at TikTok, five U.S. executives left their positions—all within the last two years.
- Three of the executives spoke anonymously with Forbes, saying that after beginning their department head position within the company, they were told to follow instructions from the ByteDance Beijing office.
- The former department heads said that while TikTok does hire U.S. executives, their scope and responsibilities are diminished, leaving the majority of decision making power to Beijing offices.
Why it’s news
TikTok has long been under scrutiny for its close ties to the Chinese government. The revelation that U.S. executives in the company seem to be more for decoration could be a source of increased concern.
A more public example of this trend is the departure of former TikTok Global Chief Security Officer Roland Cloutier in July. After creating a new department to manage U.S. user data, Cloutier transitioned out of that position into what he called “a strategic advisory role focusing on the business impact of security and trust programs, working directly with Shou, Dingkun, and other senior leaders.”
Bleeding executives isn’t a good look for the social media platform as it faces scrutiny related to a June Buzzfeed report showing ByteDance employees accessing U.S. user data.
In recent years, TikTok has expanded its U.S. employee base, in part hiring employees to work on Project Texas. The project is an attempt to separate U.S. based TikTok operations from activities in China in order to appease U.S. lawmakers concerned about the social media site interfering with American issues.
Legislators haven’t been very convinced by TikTok’s attempts to smooth things over. Fourteen U.S. senators asked the video-sharing app to respond to the BuzzFeed report accusations. The Federal Communications Commission asked Google and Apple to remove the app from their stores in response to the report.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is currently investigating whether or not TikTok lied to the U.S. and an executive order from President Joe Biden asks the Committee on Foreign Investment to evaluate the social media site more closely for cybersecurity risks.
Despite ByteDance and TikTok’s insistence that the entities are separate, testimony from employees to Forbes seems to tell a different story. Some employees told Forbes that their checks and tax returns say ByteDance rather than TikTok.
Backing up a bit
Concerns about TikTok’s security have only grown after a Forbes report revealed that hundreds of employees have connections to Chinese state media—some former and some current.
- Forbes reviewed hundreds of LinkedIn profiles of current employees of TikTok and ByteDance, the company that owns the site, finding that 300 of them were once Chinese state media employees.
- Of these profiles, 23 were managing “content partnerships, public affairs, corporate social responsibility, and media cooperation.”
- Fifteen of the profiles indicate that the employees are also currently employed by Chinese state media groups, several of which are identified by the State Department as extensions of the Chinese government.
Though 15 of the LinkedIn profiles showed employees working for both ByteDance and the Chinese state media, a ByteDance representative told Forbes that company policy does not allow employees to work two jobs.
Chinese influence on TikTok could be an issue in American culture. Already the app is a powerful tool in driving the focus and interests of common discourse.