Date of Award

Fall 2023

Degree Type


Director of Thesis

Katherine Barbieri

Second Reader

Josef Olmert


The ubiquity of social media has enabled an unprecedented amount of personal data to be accessible to various entities. Social media platforms leverage this data to optimize algorithmic recommendation systems, persuade users to engage, and promote monetization. The social media ecosystem’s business model demands continuous engagement and the relentless collection of user data to grow and scale. Not only is social media massively popular around the world, but it has integrated heavily into users’ daily lives. This integration is driven by social platforms’ deliberate architectures and affordances. The intentionality of social media can be exploited by state and non-state actors for influence, espionage, and cybercrime. The extensive data collection and manipulation capabilities inherent to social media make it a highly effective vehicle for information operations and social engineering attacks. These tactics are vital assets in multi-domain operations and psychological warfare. This paper investigates how social media can be used maliciously, with a particular focus on TikTok. TikTok, one of the United States’ most popular platforms, is connected to the People’s Republic of China via its parent company, ByteDance Ltd. This thesis assesses the unique threat that TikTok poses to U.S. National Security by examining the PRC’s strategic goals in cyberspace. Amidst rising tensions between the U.S. and PRC, this research seeks to explain the TikTok threat in deeper context.

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© 2023, Brendan M. Cullen