The White House was accused of double standards on Wednesday, as a senior spokesman deflected questions about Apple bowing to Chinese authorities, saying the tech giant was a private company, while the Biden administration says it is monitoring Twitter for misinformation.
During an appearance on Fox News, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, said it was a case of comparing ‘apples and oranges.’
Conservatives have expressed fury with the White House, after it said it would be keeping ‘an eye on’ misinformation spread on Twitter, after Elon Musk bought the platform.
It has also expressed concern that foreign investors could manipulate the platform.
So Kirby faced tough questioning about his response to Apple restricting the use of its Airdrop feature just before protests broke out.
‘We’ve been clear about this all around the world,’ he said.
‘We want individual citizens, no matter what government they live under, to be able to communicate freely and openly, transparently and reliably.
‘And we’ve made that clear with respect to Iran. And we certainly continue to make that clear here with respect to Apple.’
John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, faced accusations of double standards when he appeared on Fox News on Wednesday
Chinese protesters in the past have found Apple’s AirDrop a useful way to evade surveillance of communications. But the company issued an update recently limiting its use
Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter has come under heavy scrutiny, leading to Republicans saying the administration has double standards when it comes to Tim Cook’s Apple
Host Martha MacCallum pressed him on whether the administration had made that point to Tim Cook’s company.
‘Apple’s a private company, Martha,’ he replied. ‘They have to make decisions and they have to speak for those decisions.’
China has seen a wave of protests as it imposed lockdowns and continued with its ‘zero COVID’ policy.
Protesters have even demanded the removal of Xi Jinping as president.
Apple’s AirDrop had proven a useful way for critics to circumvent Chinese surveillance during other waves of dissent, such as in Hong Kong in 2019.
MacCallum contrasted the administration’s approach allowing Apple to do its own thing with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying officials were monitoring misinformation on Twitter — despite it also being a private company.
‘I think we’ve been very clear and consistent on this,’ Kirby replied.
‘Certainly publicly, we’ve been very open about our desire to be able to see citizens communicate.
‘Apple, if this is a decision that they’re making, then they should have to speak to that but we’re not, we can’t and we aren’t in the business of telling private companies how to execute their initiatives.’
GOP lawmakers are also grilling Apple about its new China-exclusive AirDrop update that limits the feature’s usage, which was implemented just weeks before nationwide protests
MacCallum stepped in to say: ‘Twitter’s a private company too. So why is Twitter getting one treatment and Apple’s getting another?’
‘Those are completely two different circumstances you’re talking about,’ he said.
‘You’re talking about the potential for perhaps foreign investment and involvement in the management of Twitter. That’s a different issue than what we’re talking about here, which is a business decision by Apple with respect to how one of their applications is being utilized.’
But he conceded it was an important question.
‘I certainly think that’s a fair question to ask Apple and, and try to make them communicate why they did this,’ he said.
The role of foreign investors in Twitter, coupled with Musk’s laissez-faire approach to moderation, has raised concerns that the platform could be manipulated by foreign powers.
Securities filings show that Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abudlaziz of Saudi Arabia put up $1.9 billion of the purchase price as part of the Musk deal, making him the second biggest shareholder.
Lawmakers have already flagged the role of Saudi money in the deal, and asked for a review.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said last month: ‘We should be concerned that the Saudis, who have a clear interest in repressing political speech and impacting U.S. politics, are now the second-largest owner of a major social media platform.’
Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal helped finance Musk’s $44 billion purchase and is now the second biggest shareholder in the social media platform
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut last month said Musk’s deal with the Saudis was worth investigating.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reversed course on Wednesday, saying she ‘misspoke’ when she said there was no basis for a review of Elon Musk’s Twitter deal
And on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reversed course and said that there could be grounds for a review.
Earlier this month she had said she saw ‘no basis’ for a Treasury review.
Speaking in New York on Wednesday, she said: ‘Let me clarify. I misspoke.
‘Let me say to the extent that there are international investments there, we have an agency within Treasury called CFIUS [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] that does look at transactions that involve foreign investment in the United States to see if they create national security risk.’
Yellen would not be drawn into commenting further on the prospect of a review of Musk and Twitter.
‘We do not talk about particular transactions, but this agency does look carefully at transactions that could pose risks,’ she told an audience at the New York Times DealBook Summit.
‘I’m not going to say specifically what we are or aren’t looking at. We don’t comment on work that’s in progress.
‘But if there are such risks, it would be appropriate for CFIUS to have a look.’