Senator asks TikTok CEO if the company did anything to stop extremists from planning the Capitol riots on the app

Pro-Trump protesters surround and assault a DC police officer during the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

Sen. Gary Peters in a letter to TikTok’s CEO on Tuesday asked for information on how it handles extremism on the platform, according to The Washington Post.
He asked the company to provide information about how it responded to extremism ahead of and after the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol.
At an April 19 briefing, the Department of Homeland Security said US extremists used TikTok to organize, Politico reported.

Sen. Gary Peters, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter to the CEO of TikTok on Tuesday, asking the company to provide details about how it responded to extremism ahead of and following the January 6 riot at the US Capitol.

In the letter, Peters expressed concern to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew that “domestic extremists reportedly used TikTok to recruit, organize, and communicate” ahead of the Jan 6. riot and “continue to spread their messages through content supporting white supremacists, extremists, and terrorist organizations.”

Peters also sent letters to the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation, asking both to provide information about how they are tracking domestic terror threats on social media.

In a statement, Peters said he remains concerned “that after failing to identify and prepare for the attack on the Capitol as it was planned in plain sight online, DHS and FBI have still not taken the necessary steps to align their resources to eliminate this deadly threat, while protecting the rights and liberties of Americans.”

As Politico reported in September, officials in the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis in an April briefing to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies warned that political extremists had used TikTok to recruit others and to share “tactical guidance” for terrorist or criminal activities, according to the report.

Peters referenced that briefing in his letter to TikTok on Tuesday.

“DHS’ I&A determined that TikTok’s algorithms and processes ‘can unintentionally aid individuals’ efforts to promote violent extremist content,'” the Democrat from Michigan wrote.

He also referenced an investigation from The Wall Street Journal in July that explored TikTok’s mysterious algorithm that recommends users’ videos. The investigation found the algorithm most valued how long a user spent watching a particular video and could lead a user interested in politics to videos about election conspiracy theories or QAnon.

“These algorithms increase user engagement, which in turn increases the amount of time users spend on these platforms, and by extension, the amount of advertisements that can be shown,” Peters wrote.

“There is a financial incentive for social media platforms like TikTok to keep users engaged on their platforms and viewing content, including extremist content,” he added.

Representatives for TikTok did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment Tuesday. In its community guidelines, the company says it takes “a firm stance against enabling violence on or off TikTok.”

“We do not allow people to use our platform to threaten or incite violence, or to promote dangerous individuals or organizations,” the company says. “When there is a threat to public safety or an account is used to promote or glorify off-platform violence, we may suspend or ban the account. When warranted, we will report threats to relevant legal authorities.”

In June this year, TikTok said it removed more than 300,000 videos for spreading “violent extremism” in the first three months of the year. The Institute of Strategic Dialogue in an August report said it found more than a thousand videos that promoted Holocaust denial, white supremacy, and ISIS propaganda on TikTok.

Peters asked the company by Oct. 27 to provide the panel investigating the Jan. 6 riot with information regarding its enforcement of policies that prohibit extremism and violence, whether algorithms amplified extremism, and if the company cooperated with federal authorities.

Peters previously sent similar letters to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

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