No, we don’t use TikTok, congressional staffers say

The video-sharing app has a shaky reputation in Washington

Staffers work their phones during a House Oversight and Reform Committee markup in April 2, 2019.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Staffers work their phones during a House Oversight and Reform Committee markup in April 2, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 7, 2020 at 6:00am

Politicians will try anything to reach the public, like microwaving weird sandwiches (Sen. Mark Warner, we’re looking at you) or getting their teeth cleaned on Instagram. But they have stayed away from TikTok, and that wariness appears to have trickled down to their staff.

We asked nearly 150 congressional staffers if they use the video-sharing platform dominated by Gen Z (and millennials too).

“No,” said an overwhelming 90 percent of them. Those responses were collected as part of CQ Roll Call’s latest Capitol Insiders Survey, sent to aides on April 27.

We can’t say we’re shocked. While the app has surged in global popularity, earning hundreds of millions of downloads in 2020 alone as quarantiners practice dance moves like the “woah” and try to be #HappyatHome, it has a bad reputation in Washington. Lawmakers have raised privacy and censorship questions about parent company Bytedance, which is based in China. 

“TikTok and China should be considered one and the same because all the entities that prop up China’s economy, regardless of whether they are state-owned, have no choice but to adhere to Beijing’s authoritarian demands for control and oppression,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn told tech outlet Protocol last month.

The Republican is the latest to voice concerns as the social company tries to make nice with Congress and bulk up its lobbying presence.

Sen. Josh Hawley introduced a bill in March that would prohibit federal employees — including members of Congress and staff — from installing TikTok on government-issued devices. And Rep. Jim Banks has proposed that app stores and developers warn users before they download certain apps, including TikTok.

A good chunk of TikTok users are between 18 and 24, but even the allure of reaching new voters hasn’t been enough to draw in candidates vying for elected office. Bernie Sanders became the rare exception during his presidential campaign, when a verified account went up in his name, devoted mostly to fan videos.  

As questions about the platform remain unanswered, Heard on the Hill wants to know: Who else is bucking the trend in Congress (and joining the trend across the nation) by getting on TikTok? 

Our Capitol Insiders Survey gives us just a glimpse. Out of the 170 congressional staffers who responded to the survey (two-thirds of them Democrats), 143 humored our TikTok inquiry. While 14 staffers said they have a personal account, 129 said they do not.