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Biden spokesman pressed on Apple-China, Musk-Twitter disparate treatment as Biden muted on protests

FOX News logo FOX News 11/30/2022 Charles Creitz
John Kirby on Apple limiting functions amid China protests: They have to speak for their own decisions
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A top Biden administration spokesman was pressed Wednesday on what critics call a double standard in treatment of two major Big Tech firms amid Chinese human rights protests and Elon Musk's takeover of Twitter.

Ret. Adm. John Kirby, the NSC coordinator for strategic communications, was asked to clarify the White House's stance toward Twitter and Apple as it has made overtures to keep a "close eye on" Twitter regarding misinformation while being rather muted toward the latter's restriction of AirDrop within China.

Protesters had been using Apple's AirDrop function to circumvent Chinese surveillance of telecommunications between dissidents.

Kirby told Fox News the White House has been clear on a global level that citizens should be able to "communicate freely, openly, transparently and reliably," saying the administration has been strong in that regard toward Iranians protesting their own authoritarian government.

APPLE SERVING AS ‘VASSAL’ FOR CCP AMID PROTESTS, DESANTIS SAYS

White House National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby offered kind words for Fox News chief national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) © (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) White House National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby offered kind words for Fox News chief national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

"Apple is a private company. They have to make decisions, and they have to speak for those decisions. But here at the White House, here in the administration, we want to see that individual citizens, whether they're protesting or not… are able to communicate freely and openly."

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Host Martha MacCallum pushed back, asking why the White House won't publicly say something toward Apple while press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed the administration is "keeping a close eye" on Musk and Twitter — despite it also being a private company.

"Why would [Jean-Pierre] say that from the podium… and not call Apple out for helping the Chinese government to suppress their own people's ability to communicate?" she asked.

SURVIVOR OF COMMUNIST CHINA WARNS CCP WILL USE ‘ANY MEANS NECESSARY’ TO END PROTESTS BEFORE CEDING CONTROL

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a commendation ceremony for role models of the Beijing Winter Olympics. AP Photo/Ng Han Guan © AP Photo/Ng Han Guan Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a commendation ceremony for role models of the Beijing Winter Olympics. AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Kirby replied the White House has been "very clear and consistent" on the issue of freedom of communication, adding that Apple should indeed speak about what it is doing: "But we… aren't in the business of telling private companies how to execute their initiatives."

"But Twitter is a private company, too. So why is Twitter getting one treatment and Apple is getting another, is my question," MacCallum pressed.

Kirby argued the two companies represent different circumstances.

"You're talking about the potential for perhaps foreign investment and involvement in the management of Twitter," he said. "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 used."

New Twitter owner Elon Musk. Mark Wilson/Getty Images © (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) New Twitter owner Elon Musk. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In response, MacCallum said Apple is itself being "influenced by that of a foreign government" in Beijing, in how it has changed policies in a way that helps the authoritarian Xi regime.

Kirby later said he has no "communications to speak to specifically" with Tim Cook or other Apple executives.

Earlier Wednesday, at least one Republican lawmaker reached out to Apple CEO Tim Cook and demanded answers on the decision to restrict AirDrop in China.

"This isn’t the first time Apple has taken action to limit iPhone capability to conform with the CCP’s surveillance policies," Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., wrote in a letter to Cook.

"Apple is an American-based and founded company: What’s the deal?" Johnson asked in the letter obtained by Fox News.

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MacCallum added Musk appears to be referencing Twitter's suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story just weeks before the 2020 election, asking if — as previously stated by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg — there had been interaction between government and tech concerns.

"I'm certainly not aware of any conversations or dialog in that respect, Martha," Kirby said. "No." 

In response to Musk recently claiming Twitter, under its former leadership, "interfered" in past U.S. elections, MacCallum asked for Kirby's reaction.

"We want to make sure that our elections are free and fair and open and transparent. And any threat to that, obviously, is a concern of ours. I'm not aware of exactly what Mr. Musk is speaking about here," Kirby said. "I look forward to getting more information about that so we can better understand what he's alleging here." 

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