To take on the next generation of disinformation, the US government has started reaching out to TikTok, senior government officials said on Tuesday. The Chinese-owned platform has grown increasingly popular in the US among teens, and has frequently been used for sharing political memes.
On a press call about election security on Super Tuesday, senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said that it's working with local election officials, as well as social networks, to manage disinformation online.
TikTok, which surged in popularity in the US over the last year, is the newest social network on CISA's radar.
"The relationships that we have with social media companies are related to how established they are in the United States," a senior CISA official said on the call. "We have a line of communication with TikTok, and it's just one of those areas we're going to continue strengthening out."
And there's a wrinkle: Unlike Facebook and Twitter, TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, Bytedance.
"DHS and the US government have enjoyed the luxury of most social media platforms being US-based. These days are over with the rise of TikTok," said Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor at Syracuse University who studies social media. "It is telling that they are only starting to have conversations with them, yet we are already in the process of electing the next president of the United States."
Government agencies, including CISA, are warning US voters to watch out for disinformation on Super Tuesday, and CISA said it's working with federal, state and local officials out of a building in Virginia to monitor for election interference.
Representatives from social media companies were also on site, but it's unclear if TikTok was among them. By noon ET on Tuesday, senior CISA officials said they have not detected any spikes in disinformation campaigns spreading on social media.
Officials noted the progress that the US government has made since 2016 on handling disinformation.
"We have constant contact and communication with these companies," a senior CISA official said. "It seems almost daily there's takedowns of what they call 'inauthentic activity.'"