President Joe Biden (D) has received criticism after his campaign officially joined TikTok — the Chinese-controlled social media app widely known to serve as a spyware and influence tool of the Communist Party of China — this week in spite of the oft-cited security concerns surrounding the platform.
Owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, the app has been subject to heightened scrutiny over data privacy concerns, as Chinese law requires the country’s businesses to share information with the government upon request.
Despite this law, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has denied ever having shared U.S. users’ data with the Chinese government, stating before Congress that the company has begun taking steps to ensure that American data continues to remain shielded from Chinese officials, citing what has become known as “Project Texas.”
The $1.5 billion plan primarily entails transferring the data of U.S. TikTok users to the cloud infrastructure of Oracle — a cloud company based in Austin, Texas — as well as restructuring their U.S. operations to provide a greater level of transparency and oversight in an effort to increase American confidence in the platform’s security.
Nonetheless, bans remain in place prohibiting TikTok from being downloaded or used on devices owned or issued by the federal government.
Many states — including Maine — have also instituted similar prohibitions in an effort to protect sensitive data from potentially being exposed to the Chinese government.
In the video posted to the Biden campaign’s new TikTok account — captioned “lol hey guys” — President Biden is shown giving tongue-in-cheek and deliberately noncommittal answers to a series of Super Bowl themed questions asked by someone off camera, such as which team he would be supporting and who his favorite Kelce brother is.
One of the final questions posed in the video asked Biden if the Super Bowl were rigged in favor of the Kansas City Chiefs, to which he responded “I’d get in trouble if I told you.”
This question referred to a niche conspiracy that has been circulating in recent weeks suggesting that the Super Bowl had been fixed to guarantee a win for Kansas City in order to garner an endorsement for Biden from Taylor Swift — as she was expected to be in attendance at the game in support of Chiefs player Travis Kelce whom the singer is famously dating.
After Biden gave his answer, a heavily edited image of the president with glowing red eyes — a visual that has come to be known colloquially as “Dark Brandon” — then flashed on the screen, accompanied by a laser sound effect.
The video wrapped up with the president being asked to choose between “Trump or Biden.” In response, Biden laughed and said, “Are you kidding? Biden.”
Biden’s TikTok video came on the heels of a similar post on one of the president’s official X accounts that also featured the edited “Dark Brandon” image and seemed to be referring to the same Super Bowl conspiracy theory.
Just like we drew it up. pic.twitter.com/9NBvc5nVZE— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) February 12, 2024
This is not the first time that the president has leaned into the “Dark Brandon” meme, including the graphic on his reelection campaign’s 404 error page, as well as selling t-shirts with the image.
Biden has previously utilized TikTok influencers in an effort to connect with younger audiences on the platform, but until now, has refrained from setting up an account for himself or his campaign.
Last summer, Maine lawmakers in both the House and Senate unanimously approved legislation banning the installation or use of TikTok on devices owned or controlled by the state government.
Earlier in the year, a directive was issued by Maine Information Technology (MaineIT) similarly barring TikTok — as well as any other applications developed by ByteDance — from all state-issued devices, as well as any personal devices connected to state systems.
As of January 2023, 33 states — including Maine — had put in place some form of a ban on TikTok for government-issued devices.
In May of 2023, Montana became the first and only state to pass legislation banning TikTok from all personal devices. This bill also prohibited app stores from offering TikTok for download in their marketplaces.
Although the law was scheduled to take effect in January of this year, a preliminary ruling from federal Judge Donald Molloy blocked the law from taking effect pending resolution of the legal challenges surrounding the ban.
Both White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and United States National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby have been asked about the Biden campaign’s decision to join TikTok despite the persistent security concerns surrounding the platform.
Neither official, however, has provided an answer to these questions, instead opting to defer to the Biden campaign on this matter.