‘A new internet’: Billionaire makes pitch to buy TikTok and enhance online data protections

United by shared grief, a group of parents from around the country who say their children died from social media harms traveled to Washington, D.C. on Thursday to meet with an American billionaire interested in buying the popular app TikTok.

Frank McCourt started the initiative Project Liberty with the goal of creating a safer space online. It’s now working to put together a group of bidders to purchase TikTok from Chinese-owned ByteDance.

Our Washington News Bureau was present during a breakfast meeting with McCourt and his team and the grieving parents.

“It was hard enough to raise children before the internet. It is nearly impossible now,” McCourt said.

Sam Chapman was one of the parents who took part in the discussion. His 16-year-old son Sammy died from a fentanyl-laced pill he got through Snapchat.

“Right now, our data is being used by these large companies to drive nefarious actors to our children, even to adults,” said Chapman. “We’re not willing to put up with doing nothing.”

Since his son’s death, Chapman has been pushing for more parental control on social media platforms through a bill named after his son.

“What we need is something that makes all of the platforms safe at once,” said Chapman.

It’s a vision McCourt said he shares for the future of the internet.

“I want a new internet. A new improved alternative to what we have,” said McCourt. “We can fix this. No – we will fix this.”

McCourt said he wants to stop the use of the TikTok algorithm that allows the company to collect and control user data.

“It’s really about giving control back to everyone, giving our data back to us,” said Deb Schmill, one of the grieving parents.

Schmill said her 18-year-old daughter Becca died from fentanyl she got through social media. It came after Becca turned to drugs to cope after she was sexually assaulted and cyberbullied.

“We do not want to see another family going through this loss and another child dying,” said Schmill.

President Biden signed a law that would ban TikTok unless it’s sold within a year. But ByteDance has said it will not sell.

There are several other American-owned companies that may also be interested in buying TikTok. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has also expressed interest in buying the social media platform.

We reached out to TikTok for comment about McCourt’s interest to buy the company but have not heard back.

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