- The UK Parliament deleted its TikTok account after lawmakers protested.
- Internal communications obtained by Insider reveal that it expected it would be controversial.
- It suggested security chiefs confirmed the app was safe — but won't confirm whether this was done.
Britain's Parliament anticipated its use of TikTok could be "controversial" because of the app's links to China and prepared a plan to defend itself against any blowback, internal documents have revealed.
The legislative body abandoned a pilot using the video app after only a few days, following a letter from a group of lawmakers saying TikTok had been "unable to reassure MPs that the company could prevent data transfer to ByteDance, should the parent company make a request for it."
An internal document, obtained by Insider under the UK's Freedom of Information Act, reveals Parliament anticipated TikTok's links to China could result in a hostile reaction.
The document specifically suggested asking the Parliamentary Security Department, or the PSD, whether the app was safe for parliamentary staffers' phones. "Once confirmed, this should be part of any media line," the document said.
But when Insider asked whether the PSD had concluded it was safe, Parliament declined to answer, saying: "We cannot go into any further detail about security measures taken."
The document Insider obtained — an "OASIS Communications and Evaluation Plan" — proposes other potential lines spokespeople can give to journalists.
These include: "That we use social media to reach audiences where they are; that a notably different demographic uses TikTok compared to our followers on other platforms; we are using TikTok as part of a limited pilot project, with a discrete project plan and evaluation."
The document notes that TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, has links to China and adds that "Chinese tech companies have been the subject of recent controversy," specifically citing Huawei, the telecommunications company whose hardware the UK banned from its 5G network over security fears.
ByteDance has its headquarters in Beijing, but is domiciled in the Cayman Islands.
It has repeatedly denied it would hand user data to Chinese authorities.
A TikTok spokesperson told Insider: "The TikTok platform does not operate in China and we have never provided user data to the Chinese government.
"UK politicians and government departments use TikTok to reach millions of people in an engaging and creative way."
They added that TikTok would "welcome the opportunity to talk directly" to the politicians who signed the letter "to clarify the factual inaccuracies."
The documents Insider obtained show Parliament first considered launching a TikTok account in April 2021, more than a year before it established the account.
In August 2021, Parliament staff met TikTok staff and subsequently asked if the @UKParliament handle, which had been obtained by another user but had not been used, could be given to them, which it was.
A 13-page PowerPoint document was presented to staff on February 21, 2022, showing examples of other institutions that use TikTok for public outreach.
Internal discussions within Parliament continued until March 2022, when the project picked up the pace. One staff member emailed asking "to make sure it is a development that you would be happy with from a security perspective."
The emails appear to show security advice was offered, but redacted before being released to Insider. On March 30, one staff member wrote: "TikTok is GO!!! (nearly)."
Parliament launched the account on July 28.
In their letter, the lawmakers wrote they were "surprised and disappointed" and that the account should be closed "until credible assurances can be given that no data whatsoever can be transferred to China."
It sparked a flurry of emails within Parliament and by August 1, parliamentary authorities had decided to close the account.
On August 3, the speakers of both houses of Parliament wrote a joint letter to one of the lawmakers who protested, saying this was "in light of your feedback and concerns expressed."