TikTok has hired a Massachusetts lobbying firm to advocate for policy at the state level, a new strategy for the Chinese-owned video-sharing app.
Boston-based Bay State Strategies Group took on TikTok as a client this month, according to a filing with the state. It’s the first time TikTok has tapped a lobbying firm in Massachusetts, and it comes on the heels of mounting political pressures at the federal level regarding its ties to China and data security concerns.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, an Internet technology company based in Beijing. Over the past few years, as TikTok has grown in popularity in the United States, lawmakers and regulators have become increasingly wary of the app’s ties to China.
Toward the end of last year, FBI Director Christopher Wray raised concerns about TikTok as a security threat, lawmakers introduced a bill to ban the app in the United States, and President Biden prohibited the app from being downloaded on federal government devices. Bay State Strategies plans to represent TikTok in Massachusetts on matters involving social media and “software restrictions,” according to the filing.
David Shapiro, the local lobbyist representing the social media company, declined to comment. TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown said the company remains “focused on educating lawmakers.”
“We plan to continue briefing federal and state officials about the details of our robust and comprehensive plans to address their national security concerns,” he said.
Adam Kovacevich, the chief executive of tech industry group Chamber of Progress, said TikTok’s move was likely spurred by a Massachusetts bill filed this year that would ban the app from government-issued devices. The bill was filed by Representative Mike Soter of Worcester, and it mirrors similar legislation proposed in other states and at the federal level.
“I guess I struck a nerve,” Soter said in a statement to the Globe. “TikTok is nervous that Massachusetts will join other states and the Federal government in passing, in a bipartisan fashion, measures to ban TikTok and stop the tracking of American citizens data.”
“It’s pretty clear that TikTok is trying to stop the new bill to ban its app from state devices ... not because a ban itself is that big of a deal, but because it would be a symbolic blow,” Kovacevich said. “The reality is that more and more policymakers are concerned about the country’s fastest-growing social app being owned by the Chinese.”
The federal government and more than half of US states have moved to ban TikTok from government devices. TikTok has hired lobbyists in other states, including Maryland and Texas, according to state lobbyist filings.
Critics of TikTok include Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey. As the former attorney general, she launched an investigation into whether TikTok created and promotes its app in a way that exacerbates physical and mental health harm to children and young adults.
TikTok is ramping up its political presence in Massachusetts as its parent company, ByteDance, refines its national lobbying strategy, according to media reports. The company has long kept a low profile in government and lobbying circles — even as the Trump and Biden administrations warned about its threat to national security — but now it appears to be taking a more direct approach.
Last year, ByteDance spent around $5.3 million on federal lobbying, according to OpenSecrets, a record amount of spending for the company. TikTok was the fourth-highest spender of all Internet firms last year, behind Big Tech giants Amazon, Google, and Facebook.
According to Massachusetts law, lobbyists and the companies they represent are required to disclose their relationship to the state. Bay State Strategies represents other high-profile clients in Massachusetts, including Lyft, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, and CRISPR Therapeutics.
Updated with comments from TikTok and Mike Soter.